How to Avoid the ‘Wellbeing Washing’ Trap

Workplace wellbeing has gained increased prominence in recent years and become a central issue for decision-makers in organisations across Australia.

According to recent research, 65% of HR professionals say employee expectations for wellbeing support have increased in the last year (2023 Workplace Mental Health Trends, Unmind); and “wellbeing programs” are often included as an employee perk in recruitment ads across industries and job sectors. Indeed, the evidence shows that investing in employee wellbeing contributes to a healthier and happier workforce and enhances productivity and job satisfaction.

However, amidst the surge in interest in workplace wellbeing, a concerning trend has surfaced – wellbeing washing. In this article, we will explore the concept of wellbeing washing, provide examples from various industries in Australia, and outline strategies for HR professionals to avoid falling into this trap.

What is Wellbeing Washing?

Wellbeing washing is a term that describes when an organisation publicly displays support for mental health initiatives but does not take genuine action to address workplace wellbeing concerns. It is the practice of portraying an image of care and commitment to employee wellness without investing in meaningful initiatives or addressing core issues that inflict psychological harm to employees.

Wellbeing washing often involves surface-level actions that give the impression of a well-rounded employee wellbeing program. This can take many different forms. Some organisations, for example, frame superficial perks such as free snacks, fruit bowls, ping-pong tables, or yoga classes as a ‘wellbeing program’, while others celebrate mental health awareness days without providing adequate mental health supports to their staff, or without including them within the context of a meaningful strategy.

It’s worth noting that these actions in and of themselves are not harmful. However, they can promote cynicism and erode worker trust and engagement if they are the only visible action taken while critical workplace risks such high job demands or poor leadership support are unaddressed.

On average, 38% of employees think their organisation is guilty of wellbeing washing (Claro Wellbeing, 2023) – a statistic that is even higher for Millennial and Gen Z workers. Wellbeing washing can significantly contribute to reduced help-seeking, turnover rates, and absenteeism.

It is important to remember that authentic commitment to mental health requires year-round planning and efforts, not just a month of token activities.

How to Avoid the Wellbeing Washing Trap?

Many organisations that genuinely want to support their employees to thrive can fall into the “wellbeing washing” trap. This may be due to budgetary and time constraints, lack of executive buy-in, under-resourcing in HR, or a lack of clarity or overwhelm surrounding key issues in the workplace and how to address them.

The Integrated Approach to Workplace Mental Health [1] provides a model through which organisations can plan and gain buy-in to actions that help build psychologically healthy workplaces and genuinely support employee wellbeing. It allows HR professionals and business leaders to take a holistic, data-led approach to workplace wellbeing, not only promoting positive wellbeing activities, but also preventing harm and providing support to employees who need it.


inte app 2

LaMontagne, A.D., Martin, A., Page, K.M. et al. Workplace mental health: developing an integrated intervention approach. BMC Psychiatry 14, 131 (2014)


Protect From Harm.

Identifying and mitigating psychosocial risks in the workplace is crucial to protect employees from psychological harm. Australia is witnessing a significant shift in the approach to workplace mental health, with psychosocial risk legislation gaining prominence. However, only 65% of HR professionals feel able to identify and control psychosocial risk factors within their workplace (2023 Workplace Mental Health Trends, Unmind).

The easiest place to start is with your data. Most organisations have more data than they realise, and this can be a powerful asset in identifying risk trends and prioritising actions to address them. Some actions you can take include:

* Conducting a Psychosocial Risk Assessment to understand the specific psychosocial risk and protective factors within your workforce

* Creating a Mental Health Strategy and Action Plan which identifies these risks and addresses areas of concern.

* Establishing clear policies that outline the organisation’s commitment to employee wellbeing. These policies should be communicated to all employees and regularly reviewed and adapted based on changes needs. Transparency and accountability should be encouraged and rewarded.

* Regularly assessing employee feedback and conducting surveys to identify areas where your employees require support and to gauge the effectiveness of your wellbeing initiatives. Encourage open communication and listen to employee feedback to make informed improvements.

SafeWork Australia, Comcare and state/territory regulators have a range of guidance material and tools to help employers adopt a risk management approach to manage both physical and psychological hazards.

Promote the Positive.

Increasing workplace protective factors has been shown to offset some operational demands or risk factors within the workplace. These factors include increasing job control, having role clarity, supportive management, flexible work practices that accommodate individual needs, and positive working relationships.

Many activities associated with wellbeing washing may seem to fall into this category, too. However, when deployed as part of an integrated strategy in conjunction with risk mitigation activities, these programs can help promote a culture of open communication and early help-seeking. They can include activities such as education and training initiatives, reward and recognition programs, or team building activities. It is important that these programs are aligned with employee needs and are regularly reviewed and adapted based on feedback and changes.

Provide Support.

Provide Support to people experiencing mental health issues, and reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions. Ensure your organisation has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or similar support service, that it is accessible, well-communicated, and stigma-free, and regularly assess this program for its use and effectiveness.


Employee wellbeing is not a trend: it is a key part of modern workplace culture and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) activities, and a strategic imperative for organisational success. However, the rise of wellbeing washing poses a significant challenge for HR professionals in Australia. The gap between perception and reality in employee wellbeing initiatives can erode trust and engagement, ultimately undermining the organisation’s goals. To avoid wellbeing washing and take action to meaningfully support employee wellbeing, organisations must address the concerns that pose risks to the psychological health of their employees.


[1] LaMontagne, A.D., Martin, A., Page, K.M. et al. Workplace mental health: developing an integrated intervention approach. BMC Psychiatry 14, 131 (2014)


Read about Taking an Integrated Approach to Workplace Mental Health by clicking here.

How effective is your company’s approach to managing psychological health and safety? Contact Aspect to discuss how we can support you.