Employee Wellbeing perks are a waste of money.

There, I said it.

Don’t tell me you haven’t thought it, too.

Whether you’re an employer or an employee I bet you’ve questioned whether the gym membership, head massage, mindfulness classes, lavish retreats and complimentary fruit are really making a difference to you or your business. 

Don’t tell me you haven’t once whispered: “Urghhhh, I’d rather just have the money” when the latest wellbeing initiative email pops up in the corner of your screen.

I have. 

I have also, on occasion, been the one sending the bloody email. *hangs head in shame*

More businesses than ever are investing in employee wellbeing activities and mental health has never been so talked about in the professional world. 

Yet, the number of people who are struggling with stress, anxiety and burnout is on the up and with COVID it’s only set to get worse.

So, what’s my beef with wellbeing perks? 

Surely, amongst this global chaos, I should be championing these things, right?

Perks are sexy

They really are. I LOVED the perks.

Free organic lunches, gyms, ping-pong, office slippers, onsite bakery, private healthcare, unlimited holidays. YES PLEASE! 

After years being suited and booted, those were the bells and whistles that drew me towards jobs in startups in a way that big money couldn’t.

I’ve literally experienced every kind of employee wellbeing perk out there, at some point.

Yet, I still burned out.

And when I say burned out, I don’t mean I was stressed or overwhelmed or fed up.

I mean I was on-the-floor-panic-stricken-hallucinating-from-sleep-deprivation-kind burned out.

Emotionally, physically, mentally wasted. (TMI? #sorrynotsorry)

In fact, I think that some of those perks actually ‘kept me going’ way longer than I should have.

If I couldn’t have sweat out my anxiety with extreme workouts, covered my disengagement with free beer, or channelled ALLLLL my zen with meditation classes then I, or someone else, may have spotted I was on the edge a lot sooner. 

Perks aren’t all bad

Let’s be clear, I’m not condemning perks or those who offer them, at least not completely.  

My bone of contention lies in the way that these perks are used and whether or not they form part of a larger, more holistic approach to wellbeing, or not (but if you dont even give your team a cup-o-tea during their day, shame on you, you need to try much harder!).

So, let me caveat the title of this post, a little.

I think that wellbeing perks are a waste of money when they are:

  • Used as stand-alone tools for stress/burnout prevention 
  • Used in place of a fair salary 
  • Used as wellbeing bandaids (i.e when people are already struggling)
  • Used solely as carrots to attract talent
  • Used without awareness and support activities

(I’ll stop now, feel free to email me for the full list!) 

Essentially, the only time I think they’re a good use of cash is when employee wellbeing, specifically mental wellbeing, is integrated into the DNA of the business. 

Everyone needs to understand and nurture employee mental health

Top down, bottom up, side to side…

Leaders, managers and teams need to understand what good mental wellbeing looks likes, what thier specific needs are and how to spot the signs of struggle.

If they don’t then you may as well just burn the money you have invested on those perks. Seriously.

Everyone needs to understand their personal wellbeing and how to support it. 

People across the organisation should feel able and supported to start a basic conversation around mental health. 

Managers and leaders need to be aware of the things that trigger poor mental health at work. Then they need to be willing to create environments that control these triggers so their people’s mental wellbeing can thrive.  

It is this awareness and support, as well as the conversations that go with them, that will really improve employee wellbeing.

These are things that will have a positive and deep impact on people. 

These are the things that are the bare minimum you should do if you consider yourself to be a conscious leader that cares about people.

Then, if you still want to add on all those perks, fan-bloody-tastic. It’s an enthusiastic “yes” from me. Just get those foundations in place, first. 

And with those foundations, you might find that ALL those bells and whistles aren’t quite necessary.

You might find that people are already happier, more engaged, more productive and moaning far less about the underripe avocados in the complimetary fruit bowl. 

If any of this feels remotely familiar to you, I’ve got something that can help you look after your own and your team’s mental wellbeing, here. 

Or if you’d like to pick this apart, or figure out what this means in practical terms drop me a message or email, I’ll be very happy to chat through what this looks like in day to day terms.