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Wellbeing washing - what is it and why does it matter?

Author: Andrew Jackson, Rethinkly CEO

We’ve had a lot of interest from journalists in recent weeks – you may have seen some of the coverage. A recent theme has been perk-washing and I admit I had to look up what it meant.

What I found was it was all about inconsistency between the ‘practice’ and the ‘preaching’. Virtue signalling is a close relative. Like offering a free lunchtime yoga class to an employee, but they work in a team where taking a lunch hour is generally frowned upon. Like giving free access to a mindfulness app in a culture where bullying and harassment is the elephant in the room which no one talks about.

I guess to some extent all of us say things and even mean things which don’t exactly match our actions. So why should HR policies or job ads be any different? And surely, the intention of these perks is to support employees with their wellbeing, and that can only be a positive thing, right?

Most of our clients are trying to go beyond this. They’re seeking to affect the culture, the “how things get done around here” but at a level which people can relate to. Like the IT company providing a visualization tool to help their leaders think through why their team might not be performing. Or the company working on gender diversity, providing a way for senior women to express what the glass ceiling actually feels like, and what they might do about it. Or a new initiative we kicked off this week, where their employer is using Rethinkly to provide psychologically safe meetings and workshops, so they can do a better job of learning from their so-called failures.

Our brains are well suited to ‘spot the difference’ and noticing where actions don’t line up with words. And while calling it out is important we’re also very proud to work with those who are getting on with the task of changing how employees actually experience their workplace on a day-to-day day basis.

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