“Greatwashing”: when well-being at work becomes a marketing argument rather than a real concern

“Greatwashing”: when well-being at work becomes a marketing argument rather than a real concern

Offering their employees a good quality of professional life has become the priority of many companies. It is about their economic performance but also their ability to attract the best candidates for recruitment. This is why companies engage in “greatwashing” to compensate for the talent shortage.

Greatwashing: what is it?

“Greatwashing” was theorized, for the first time, in 2019 by Jean-Christophe Vuattoux and Tarik Chakor in an article published on the site The Conversation. It refers to the fact that some employers consider quality of life at work more as a marketing argument than a real area of ​​improvement. They focus their efforts on quick and inexpensive solutions rather than taking the necessary steps to truly increase the well-being of their teams.

Concretely, companies practicing “greatwashing” often pride themselves on having certifications and HR labels which prove that they ensure the happiness of their employees. They equip themselves with “chief happiness officers” (“responsables du happiness”, in French) and pamper their staff by organizing sports tournaments, yoga classes, sophrology workshops and seminars in game bars.

But, internally, the reality is quite different. Employees complain of an overload of work, a lack of recognition and autonomy or even conflicting relationships with their supervisor. In other words, they are anything but professionally fulfilled. A game of table football between two meetings or an aperitif with colleagues, at the expense of the big boss, will not be enough to remedy the situation.

A deceptive technique

This is the whole problem with “greatwashing”. It emphasizes appearance instead of well-being. The notion of quality of life at work becomes an element of communication to attract coveted profiles on the job market, and not an imperative. In this way, “greatwashing” follows in the wake of “greenwashing”, this marketing method which gives a misleading image of an organization’s ecological and environmental commitment.

However, in France, employers are required by law to do everything possible to preserve the physical and mental health of their employees. However, few appear to be taking the necessary steps to comply with this legal obligation. Only 31% of workers in France think that their company prioritizes employee well-being over profits, according to a Forrester Consulting/Indeed survey of 1,508 employees. Slightly more people are convinced that their managers care about how they feel at work (39%).

Greatwashing: a counterproductive trend

In addition to being misleading, “greatwashing” can be counterproductive. New hires risk falling down when they realize that the company that just hired them does not meet their expectations. This disappointment can push them to resign from the position they have recently occupied and, therefore, to swell the ranks of “job hoppers”. This failure also has serious financial consequences: it is estimated that the recruitment and “onboarding” of a new employee costs between 7,500 and 28,000 dollars (between 7,085 and 26,450 euros) per head. It is therefore better to ensure that this money is not invested for nothing.

But that’s not the only problem with “greatwashing.” When companies publicly boast of doing everything to ensure the well-being of their teams, they create an injunction to happiness. They also place the responsibility for professional development on the shoulders of employees alone, and not on those of their superiors. Thus, unhappy employees are unhappy of their own doing. This logic contributes to making the real suffering of certain employees invisible and isolating them even more. Enough to push them to distance themselves even further from the company that hires them.

30 quotes about work

Slide: 30 quotes about work