I’ve been out and about talking to people about wellbeing at work. Talking to employees about why they do or why they don’t engage with wellbeing initiatives, activities and programmes where they work. I am particularly interested in secondary and tertiary wellbeing initiatives; tools to enhance or boost wellbeing, tools to help people cope. From mindfulness classes to resilience training, onsite fitness classes to events, health checks and counselling, what makes employees get involved – and what are the barriers to taking part?
These conversations have led me to find there are five main barriers to engagement with wellbeing at work.
I’m too busy.
We are all busy. Many of us like to make sure that other people know that too. Some people say that they simply don’t have time to engage in this sort of thing at work (or indeed at all). But the Personal Trainer in me questions this narrative – because this often what people say when they really mean that they don’t want to, don’t see what’s in it for them, or simply aren’t prepared to prioritise it. It’s a reason many people gave me (usually the first reason), but scratch the surface and you’ll often find something else instead. Sometimes, it is something else in this very list.
We all know that when it comes to mental health many employees are concerned about stigma. According to Mind, about a third of employees wouldn’t want to tell their manager if they are suffering from a mental health issue. But the people I spoke to felt this about broader wellbeing activity too. Going to a wellbeing event might make people think you can’t cope, that you need help, that you aren’t up to it. It’s not what serious, successful people do, don’t you know. They are concerned about the potential reputational impact of being seen to need wellbeing support at work.
As I’ve blogged before, many organisations work to support their employees in boosting wellbeing or dealing with the symptoms of ill-health when they arise. But they aren’t always quite so quick to tackle the big, strategic, organisational culture related stuff that works at the preventative level. This in turn can to cynicism on the part of employees. The organisation isn’t serious, it’s all just window dressing, there’s no substance, no desire to do the difficult stuff. It’s just care-washing.
Lack of awareness.
I recently organised some focused wellbeing activity for an internal event. I communicated on every channel known to a HR professional. Several times. I covered emails, intranets, social media and some old school posters too. Why didn’t you come along? I asked people. Didn’t know about it, came the reply. It doesn’t matter how much you think you have communicated and communicated, your message won’t necessarily be getting through to the people that need to hear it.
Lack of management support.
There are two aspects to this. Firstly, a lack of role models (especially at a senior level) talking about wellbeing, being seen to (really) care about it, or even attending some of those activities for themselves. The second aspect rests with the actions of the immediate manager in terms of encouraging their team to get involved, creating the permission and providing the time. Where managers and leaders are aware of wellbeing and their role in enabling it, this can make all the difference. Where it doesn’t happen this will impact on take up.
When it comes to wellbeing at work, there is no silver bullet. There is no single solution to supporting people, engaging people, even tackling that bigger strategic stuff. Wellbeing is personal, contextual. What it means to live and work well is different for each of us. There will be some who will never choose to get involved and that’s just fine. But for those who just might want to but feel constrained or unable, tackling some of the stuff on this list of barriers is a good place to start.