When Employee Benefits Hurt Wellbeing

Have you ever considered whether your employee benefits truly are benefits? Whilst it may sound counter-intuitive, some benefits really do not live up to their name, in reality being far more harmful than beneficial to employees.

An increasing number of organisations are offering seemingly impressive options to their workers, such as free meals at the office, a company account to order food deliveries after 6pm, and taxis home for late evening journeys.

But ‘benefits’ such as these reinforce the underlying expectation that employees should need them, and therefore should frequently be working long hours, kept away from their home lives and happy to carry on working as long as they are catered for. Well-meaning or not, providing dinner and a taxi home is no substitute for healthy working hours and time away from the office, yet somehow it is dressed as an office perk.

Research points to workplace culture as being the biggest obstacle to employee wellbeing, and this is no surprise when even schemes put in place to benefit workers can have the opposite effect in the long run.

Even things like meditation or yoga classes provided to employees can backfire if not promoted carefully and with the right message – is the organisation suggesting that if employees are doing their jobs well, they should expect to be stressed and to require help to alleviate this? Or are some employees feeling so pressured to take part in a ‘wellness’ activity that is simply not the right fit for them that it is actually adding to their stress levels?

Whilst there is no easy solution, there are a couple of questions that can help you to evaluate your employee benefits in this respect, whether existing or new ideas.

  • Is there an ulterior motive underlying this ‘benefit’? (e.g. provisions for late nights in the office to encourage long working days)
  • Might it seem like there is an ulterior motive to employees, even if that was not the intention?

If the answer is yes to the first question, then it isn’t a benefit and it is unlikely to have any positive impact on employees or the business long-term. If the answer to the second is yes, then it will be important to consider exactly how this benefit is introduced and positioned to employees to ensure that it is seen in a positive light.

If in doubt, start with the basics. Elaborate benefits are only going to do so much if employees are struggling with excessive working hours, a toxic culture and poor pay. Giving people choices in a wellness programme is also advisable; wellbeing is personal, and what helps one person will not necessarily help another.

In a time of both growing interest in organisational wellbeing programmes and yet also increasing workplace stress levels, it is crucial that we do not lose sight of the true purpose of these sorts of interventions, and miss out on the potential real benefits to both employees and organisations if done correctly.

Find out about our wellbeing and resilience workshops here.

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