Why workplace wellness efforts fail

Company large Amazon is taking warmth over experiences of its WorkingWell initiative, a bodily and psychological well being programme meant to enhance worker well being within the retail large’s fulfilment centres.

A leaked pamphlet, which Amazon has claimed was created in error and isn’t being circulated, encourages staff to put money into their very own health and change into “industrial athletes.

One side attracting specific consideration is a plan for “AmaZen Booths.” Additionally referred to as Aware Apply Rooms, these kiosks are meant for workers to take breaks from work, expertise durations of calm, and entry psychological well being sources. Amazon deleted a social media post concerning the cubicles after being mocked on Twitter.


The small print paint an unflattering image of the corporate in mild of its unprecedented rise in revenues, profits and stock value in the course of the pandemic. Critics of Amazon say the corporate’s unparalleled monetary success is on the backs of its 1.3 million employees who’re topic to precarious employment contracts – points that got here to a head after an unsuccessful campaign amongst some US-based Amazon staff to realize commerce union recognition.

Commentators are additionally saying that these staff expertise larger than common charges of workplace injuries and are handled like “galley slaves“. In such circumstances, it’s argued, a wellbeing initiative is inappropriate.

These applications are gaining in reputation: COVID-19 has raised “wellness” up the agendas of companies like by no means earlier than—and never all the time in a great way. Many corporations have launched train courses, fruit and different sticking-plaster options reasonably than measures which assess danger, give attention to prevention and prioritise “first rate work” as a driver of each wellbeing and productiveness.

Having been a choose for the Global Healthy Workplace Awards since 2014, I’ve run a crucial eye over many company wellness programmes. Like different large corporations, Amazon faces the difficult stability of selling worker wellbeing with out being accused of tokenism.

In attempting to enhance employee wellness, corporations typically miss the mark. Listed below are some issues they need to have in mind:

1. Well being and productiveness can and should coexist

To indicate that there ought to be a binary selection between well being and productiveness is facile and deceptive. One of many extra breathtaking issues I heard from a senior government of a giant UK organisation in the course of the pandemic was this:


“Frankly, I believe that job stress is a simpler driver of productiveness for us than wellbeing applications.”

Removed from being a distinct segment or outdated opinion, this pondering is consultant of a major proportion of enterprise leaders all over the world. Because it occurs, this massive organisation can also be very eager to inform anybody who will pay attention that “worker well being, security and wellbeing is their largest precedence” – although once I checked their newest report back to shareholders and potential buyers, the phrases “income” and “earnings” outnumbered mentions of “security” by a ratio of 25 to 1.

2. Life-style evangelism is not any substitute for first rate work

The previous chief medical officer of UK telecoms large BT, Dr. Paul Litchfield, famously derided what he referred to as the “fruit and Pilates” method to workplace wellbeing. He argued that no quantity of wholesome snacks in canteens, “step challenges” or firm enjoyable runs can compensate for jobs with unattainable deadlines or targets, or the stress of reporting to a supervisor who’s a bully.

One of many founding fathers of recent motivation concept, Frederick Herzberg, as soon as stated: “in order for you somebody to do a great job, give them a great job to do.” Wellness programmes that ignore this straightforward concept are unlikely to have a permanent influence.

3. Context is the whole lot

The AmaZen Cubicles are not more than a recent tackle many profitable neighborhood and workplace psychological well being programmes such because the “Men’s Shed” motion, which originated amongst working males in Australia within the Nineteen Nineties. It focused older males, who can typically discover being open about psychological well being very troublesome, by providing sources and assist which inspired reflection and “help-seeking.”

Related cubicles have been used efficiently by some UK employers. Electrical energy provider E.ON created a “Head Shed” to encourage staff to search out out extra about psychological wellbeing, as an example.

The actual take a look at of Amazon’s model is whether or not it’s a part of a genuinely coherent programme of initiatives which assess and cut back publicity to danger, and persuade staff that the corporate actually is prioritising their wellbeing over the long run. Having a well-branded initiative on wellbeing isn’t sufficient by itself, particularly if many staff’ on a regular basis expertise of labor is that it’s intense, strenuous and poisonous.

4. Employers: watch out for ‘idiot’s gold’

Employers must be extra crucial shoppers of wellbeing “miracle cures” provided by industrial suppliers. I’ve seen too many employers divert sources from unglamorous however evidence-based interventions (like gaining access to a great occupational well being nurse) in direction of these meant to “showcase” their dedication to well being and wellbeing.

Utilized by themselves, laughter coaches and head massages are actually not more than perks, with little or no direct influence on well being or productiveness. Even very talked-about initiatives equivalent to Mental Health First Aid have little or no robust proof of any long-term profit.

Sadly, within the drive for extra productiveness, the well being and wellbeing of staff could be among the many first casualties. Experiences of Amazon’s WorkingWell program have, to this point, not been flattering. Its problem—like many different companies—is to brush apart the cynicism and display that its efforts may have tangible advantages for all of its staff and usually are not simply PR spin.

Stephen Bevan is the pinnacle of HR Analysis Growth on the Institute for Employment Research, Lancaster University.