Workplace Wellness Programs Have Little Benefit, Study Finds
Employee mental health services have become a billion-dollar industry. New hires are presented with a panoply of digital wellness solutions, mindfulness seminars, massage classes, resilience workshops, coaching sessions and sleep apps.
But a British researcher who analyzed survey responses from 46,336 workers at companies that offered such programs found that people who participated in them were no better off than colleagues who did not.
The study, published this month in Industrial Relations Journal, considered the outcomes of 90 different interventions and found a single notable exception: Workers who were given the opportunity to do charity or volunteer work did seem to have improved well-being.
Across the study’s large population, none of the other offerings — apps, coaching, relaxation classes, courses in time management or financial health — had any positive effect. Trainings on resilience and stress management actually appeared to have a negative effect.
“It’s a fairly controversial finding, that these very popular programs were not effective,” said William J. Fleming, the author of the study and a fellow at Oxford University’s Wellbeing Research Center.
Fleming’s analysis suggests that employers concerned about workers’ mental health would do better to focus on “core organizational practices” like schedules, pay and performance reviews.
Fleming’s study is based on responses to the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey in 2017 and 2018 from workers at 233 organizations, with financial and insurance service workers, younger workers and women slightly over-represented.
The data captured workers at a single point in time, rather than tracking them before and after treatment. Using thousands of matched pairs from the same workplace, it compared well-being measures from workers who participated in wellness programs with those of their colleagues who did not.
Adam Chekroud, a co-founder of Spring Health, a platform that connects employees with mental health services, and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, said Fleming’s study examined interventions that were “not highly credible” and measured well-being many months later. A blanket dismissal of workplace interventions, he said, risks “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
“There is recent and highly credible data that things like mental health programs do improve all those metrics that he mentions,” Chekroud said.
文／Ellen Barry 譯／羅方妤