Wellbeing apps, stress management classes and mindfulness training do not benefit workers’ mental health, a study has found.
A University of Cambridge researcher found that many of the initiatives organisations put in place to help boost resilience and alleviate mental health concerns do not satisfactorily improve workers’ wellbeing – and some actually worsened stress levels.
William Fleming, a researcher in the university’s sociology department, told a British Sociological Association online conference that wellbeing classes, apps, coaching and events had “no effect on employee wellbeing” for the average worker.
“These types of interventions appear to be a convenient option for employers concerned with mental health, including the government, which as an employer implements various wellbeing programmes throughout the civil service and NHS,” he said.
“Merely offering short-term programmes or classes is not satisfactory for solving long-standing problems of worker wellbeing.”
Effective wellbeing strategies
Fleming analysed data from the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey, which related to 26,471 employees across 128 UK employers, to compare the wellbeing levels of those who participated in various wellbeing initiatives with those who had not.
Only initiatives that encouraged staff to carry out volunteering or charity work were found to have improved employee mental health, while stress management classes were found to have worsened it. The other initiatives had no effect.
“These results are counter to much of the prevailing narrative around mental health interventions in governmental policy and within HR management and public health literature,” Fleming said.
“This research shows that these initiatives are not helpful for the average worker. The argument that these programmes are merely an attempt to ameliorate the worst of workplace alienation without altering fundamental labour systems is supported.”
Fleming said the research showed that interventions to improve employee’s mental health should be made at management level, not employee level.
“It should not be the role of employees to persistently address their own mental health, but that of management to comprehensively consider and address the structures of work which cause harm through stress, trauma and uncertainty,” he said.