3 key barriers to change wellbeing leads face

In my last post I alluded to some of the challenges facing workplace wellbeing leads. As a relatively new role in the world of work, not many people realise the scale of the task involved. Although there is a mounting stack of evidence pointing towards the importance of wellbeing today, there is also still a huge amount of resistance when it comes to driving change at the level of each organisation.

As part of my research project, I interviewed 14 wellbeing leads working across a wide range of sectors, from NHS and non-profit to large corporations, and they all talked about the importance of the environment in which they carried out their role. Where some wellbeing leads felt their organisation was generally supportive of wellbeing, with senior leaders embracing a wellbeing agenda and this trickling down to managers and employees, in the majority of cases they were dealing with different levels of resistance. When I analysed the data, I noticed there were three distinct factors which wellbeing leads described as barriers to progress.

Barrier #1: Bullying and stigmatisation of stress and mental health issues

The first barrier was certain behaviours which were both ingrained and widespread – these included bullying and stigmatisation of stress and mental health issues. Frequently linked to managers but also more widely. Cultural norms deemed ‘normal’ in workplaces just a few years ago are now seen in a different light. We are generally much more aware of the impact of certain behaviours and why they are unacceptable, but as we know change doesn’t come about instantly. It requires upskilling as a starting point. It requires embracing new values and that doesn’t happen overnight. Wellbeing leads are often catalysts for change, by introducing wellbeing-centred management training for example.

Barrier #2: A lack of awareness and understanding of wellbeing

The second barrier to change is simply a lack of awareness and understanding of what wellbeing means. Basically ‘people don’t know what they don’t know’. Wellbeing leads would share conversations they had where colleagues were genuinely perplexed about what wellbeing is all about – ‘What does it mean? Is it happiness?’ Or people would say ‘Oh I’m old school, I don’t believe in all of that.’ Or the blind spots could be at senior leadership level, along the lines of ‘if problems occur, we’ll follow the procedure’ without necessarily recognising wellbeing as an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Barrier #3: A gap in wellbeing authenticity (aka ‘wellbeing washing’)

Finally the third barrier that was mentioned was around organisational authenticity. A mismatch between an organisation’s stated intentions and actions being taken. I’ll aim to develop this concept further in my next post, but the interesting thing that stood out for me on this point was that this gap in authenticity which is often referred to as ‘wellbeing washing’ wasn’t always intentional. In fact the wellbeing leads I interviewed shed quite a nuanced light on this and the fact that organisations might be trying hard to change but there are lots of factors that come into play.

Overall, the common thread across these three types of barrier is passive resistance – inertia if you like. No one is actively looking to block wellbeing progress but the reality is more that change takes time and a lot of work behind the scenes to build awareness and understanding about the need for wellbeing, let alone implementing change itself.

Would you like to hear more and keep in touch?

As part of the work we’re doing at SuperWellness we are looking to create a training course and community of peers that will be truly practical and relevant for wellbeing leads. If this is something you would be interested in, please add your details to our waitlist and we’ll keep you updated.

Read my next post:

In search of wellbeing authenticity


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