How we set our workplace wellbeing personnel up to fail

woman trapped


Last week I wrote about what it takes to be a great workplace wellbeing professional. I recommend reading that article before you jump into this one. This week, I’m taking a look at why, even if we find the best wellbeing talent available, our workplace wellbeing mission can fail.

In order to understand this, we need to explore the challenges and frustrations that current practitioners face. This helps to explain, in part at least, why our wellbeing strategies struggle to deliver on their objectives. It also helps us to consider what knowledge, experience, and skills could serve us well in this space. Furthermore, being aware of and avoiding these challenges will ensure that if we are entering this field or hiring for a wellbeing role, that we do not inadvertently set things up for failure, as is so often the case now.

What is not in question when it comes to wellbeing practitioners is their energy, commitment, and enthusiasm. What is under increasing scrutiny (and rightly so), is the impact they are having on the employees and the organization. For many reasons, failing to deliver is a frustrating problem for both the employee and the employer.


Q: Why does this challenge occur?

A: The two main problems I have witnessed time and again are an inadequate level of support and an inability to influence, embed, and measure meaningful and valuable change.

Pay cheap, pay twice

Wellbeing is a relatively new area for most businesses, and this means we lack enough senior practitioners to meet demand. It also means, that often those who are hired to fulfil wellbeing roles don’t have anyone above them with adequate subject knowledge to support them in the way that more traditional roles might expect.

This is compounded by the fact that we often see organisations hire for entry-level managerial wellbeing positions when really they need a more senior practitioner to get things off the ground. This usually happens when the org is newer to this topic, and they are unclear what and who they need to succeed. As such, they play it safe and hire on a restricted budget and put the new hire under a HR generalist. This can easily become a ‘pay cheap, pay twice’ scenario.

Big dreams, limited impact

As a result, we often see energetic and passionate wellbeing professionals with big dreams for inspiring positive change in the workplace, left to lead wellbeing efforts single-handedly. In many cases, wellbeing professionals are motivated but inexperienced officers trying to wade through a wealth of complex and growing subject material, relying almost solely on personal wellbeing or wellness guidance in a workplace environment which, whilst related, is only a fraction of what’s required. They may find themselves unable to achieve what they and their organizations had hoped for but struggle to fully understand why. This is particularly true of lone operators with limited strategic or commercial experience.

Flying blind (and alone)

Moreover, without senior support or the necessary strategic skills, it may be difficult for wellbeing practitioners to identify or influence the strategic levers that can be used to improve workplace wellbeing. When compounded by sceptical leadership with low expectations for the organization’s wellbeing efforts or a lack of understanding around wellbeing as a contributor to the bottom line, wellbeing practitioners may grapple to develop effective measurement strategies that help them to prove any value being gained. This makes it difficult to identify areas ripe for improvement and means that they are not only flying alone, but also flying blind.

A lack of engagement

Employees may come up with good initiatives and ideas, but find it is difficult to achieve the buy-in, action, and commitment critical to achieving real change. This is often because this level of buy-in is understood by leaders, managers, and employees to be optional and not ‘part of their job’. A further outcome of this type of situation is that wellbeing practitioners are unable to demonstrate to employees that wellbeing is supported across the organization. This leads inevitably to engagement, participation, and communications breakdowns which wellbeing professionals and HR departments will battle to overcome alone.

Inability to influence

Furthermore, there is frequently little opportunity to initiate or join discussions around wellbeing at the highest strategic level and no authority to influence policy changes or spend budget without layers of bureaucracy to penetrate. Similarly, these employees may find it difficult to address entrenched cultural issues such as presenteeism or an always on culture which require policies from the top, as well as behaviours and incentives driven at a senior level.

The result

The result is that efforts to improve wellbeing become burdensome. It is a demotivating experience and enthusiasm from both sides naturally wanes, with neither having achieved what they wanted to. In addition, the wellbeing and performance of the wellbeing professional probably ends up considerably lower than when they started in post due to the stress and frustration of not reaching their potential or delivering meaningful results to progress their career.

In summary: The will, as well as the person has to be there

I know of several highly-experienced, highly-qualified, highly-paid, and exceptionally committed wellbeing leaders in senior management and director-level roles who face many of these challenges too. Few have lasted more than 2-years in post before realising they are fighting an impossible battle and acknowledge that this is not an organization that really wants to change or be a beneficiary of those changes.

The message here is that even with the right expertise and skills, your workplace wellbeing personnel will not be able to drive the desired ROI and impact unless they are given the support, commitment, and permission to do so.

As with most top performers, their tolerance for mediocrity and sub-par results is likely to be low, and they will leave your the organization before they are able to make your investment in them pay off.


Free strategic wellbeing resources from WellWise.

WellWise currently offers two free resources to help professionals to understand and develop a wellbeing strategy.

E-book: Workplace Wellbeing: How we got here and where we went wrong

Whitepaper: Workplace Wellbeing, a strategically integrated approach and how to master it.

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