Two key developments in workplace wellness:

1) Unwellness at work is becoming one of the big elephants in the corporate boardroom.

As a revealing example, in 2017–2018 in the UK, stress, depression and anxiety accounted for more than half (57 percent) of total working days lost due to ill health. The issue of mental health in the workplace seems to be continuously getting worse, which begs the question of what to do and the relevance of workplace wellness initiatives.

A new, comprehensive report from Deloitte UK sheds interesting light on corporate investment in employees’ mental health and how it helps to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism (as well as staff turnover).

The results of their return on investment analysis show a complex but positive case for employers to invest in the mental health of their employees, with an average return of £5 for every £1 spent (hence a 400 percent return). However, potential returns are subject to a large spread, ranging from 0.4-to-1 to nearly 11-to-1. Interventions with the highest returns are those that focus on large-scale preventive initiatives and on using diagnostics and technology to tailor support for those most in need.

2) An increasing number of companies are offering mindfulness and meditation apps to their employees in an effort to counter the epidemic of stress, depression and anxiety that is affecting so many within their workforce. The meditation market is growing particularly fast. In the US, it was estimated to be $1.21 billion in 2018 and is forecast to rise to $2.08 billion by 2022 (according to Marketdata Enterprises). In the digital sphere, Calm—the first mental health unicorn—and Headspace are ahead of their competitors (most notably Reflectly, Meditopia and Breethe).

How effective are these apps? It’s hard and too early to tell, but they seem to have some benefits over “real” mindfulness and meditation sessions, particularly in terms of quality and consistency. The reason: The mindfulness and meditation market is overcrowded with very low or non-existent barriers to entry; as a result, many consultants are at best not up to the job or at worst charlatans.

This being said, offering an app is not a guaranteed panacea. First, any piecemeal approach to mental wellbeing is bound to fail because only a holistic solution can deal with the complexity of human beings’ needs and motivations—therefore “just buying some stuff” won’t fix the problem.

Second, mindfulness and meditation serve no purpose whatsoever in a workplace polluted by a toxic culture. As an example, those global companies known to impose unrealistic performance targets upon their employees and characterized by an “always-on” culture won’t solve the problem of misery at work by offering a meditation app. It simply won’t work! This raises the issue of the over-commoditization of mindfulness—too often being seen as just something else to sell with little or no regard for its genuine contribution to client wellbeing. The most ludicrous but illustrative example: a meditation app to download on our phone that tells us to put down our phone…

6 thoughts on “Mental Wellness Is the Big Elephant in the Corporate Boardroom”

  1. I cannot challenge whether meditation apps are more effective than in person sessions, but what I would observe is that the use of an app creates a dependence issue; ie people learn to rely on the app rather than using their own tools themselves which are always available, notably the breath. They key to meditation and mindfulness (and wellbeing generally) is embodiment. I lead weekly sessions in mindfulness and meditation and talk about my own experiences, and it relates to the daily life in an organisation.

    I agree that culture though is the overriding principle to designing an effective corporate wellbeing strategy.

  2. Yes indeed, mental wellness is the elephant in the room. The focus has been and still is on reactive approaches, such as mental health first aid and professional help to those who are ill, very few are currently addressing employee mental well-being and workplace mental wellness proactively. Since mental wellness impacts 100% of employees, securing mental wellness in workplaces should be promoted by all by employers.

    For that, it is extremely important to begin to understand the difference between mental illness and mental wellness that are polar opposites. Our team has explained the difference here:

    It really matters that we start focusing on mental wellness and mental fitness instead of suffering from work-related mental illnesses. All work-related mental illnesses are preventable.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with this. Preventative work is often neglected, if not disregarded all together. Employers tend to start taking action if and when serious problems with mental health have already manifested and most leaders are not trained to notice the behavioural differences in their employees. Mental wellness practices in the workplace are definitely a thing of the future, I for one can’t wait for that future to begin and start seeing companies invest in hireing Health Coaches and other wellness specialists to deal with the preventative care.

  3. The need for Industrial/Organizational Psycholgy is needed in more major colleges/universities. All managers, supervisors and higher ranking positions of authority in companies need to understand human emotions, and how they affect production and the atmosphere. Human resource department aren’t enough to deal with the growing amounts of drama in the work place. Better emotional training and understanding of how to relate and de-escalate disgruntled individuals with empathy!

  4. “…those global companies known to impose unrealistic performance targets upon their employees and characterized by an “always-on” culture won’t solve the problem of misery at work by offering a meditation app…” well-said, Thierry. So very difficult to successfully address a long-term solution with a quarter-by-quarter mindset. Thanks for your insights!

    1. The need to help in how to improve visibility of leaders so that HR’s, training managers and business leaders take notice of those sitting in the tiers below the corporate office is also required. Sometimes you have to work from the bottom up to get a real feel for the issues within the organisation, although many tend not to look that far down…

      One organisation I have come across appear to have a good formulated message and approach…

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