Wellbeing in the workplace – where are you now?

Wellbeing interventions in the workplace are generally defined as being of a primary, secondary or tertiary nature.

Primary interventions aim to prevent work related stress or wellbeing issues from arising.  They address problems at source. These interventions will be strategic, systemic, structural.  Examples of primary interventions include job design, working patterns, leadership development or resource allocation models.  Primary interventions can design wellbeing into the fabric of work and the workplace.  The responsibility for wellbeing is placed upon the organisation and its leaders. 

Secondary interventions are about helping people to cope with challenges and health promotion. It includes resilience training, mindfulness classes, fitness and coaching.  Tertiary interventions support people who are already unwell or in a crisis situation and includes occupational health, EAPs and counselling services.  Both secondary and tertiary initiatives primarily address symptoms.  They focus on and place the responsibility for wellbeing on the individual.

Primary interventions are proactive.  Secondary and tertiary interventions are reactive.  Research suggests that primary interventions are more effective the secondary and secondary is more effective than tertiary.  

Primary action is where the magic happens.  It tackles the big issues… but it is also the difficult stuff, and much more difficult than handing out free fruit or offering some desk based massage.  

It has become increasing common to see criticisms of organisations for operating only in the secondary and tertiary spaces.  It gives rise to suggestions of care-washing – there to look good rather than really make a difference.  But there can be real value in the secondary and tertiary too.  Intervention in these spaces can support culture change, give permission to employees to engage and create conversations.  They can provide people with valuable skills and information, and nudge them to work with wellbeing in mind.

To be truly effective, a wellbeing strategy needs to include all three types of interventions. This is where real change will be felt because together they address both the source of any negative impact on wellbeing as well as the consequences.  They have a complimentary effect – all three together is an optimal position. 


Where is your organisational wellbeing offering right now– is it primary, secondary or tertiary?

And how can you ensure you are engaging in all three spaces?