L&D and employee wellbeing: how the former can positively influence the latter

A female employee staring at a laptop computer while looking stressed

A recent CIPD report stated that nearly two-fifths of employees are under excessive pressure at work, but their wellbeing is barely (if at all) taken into account when business decisions are made. This is surprising given that a business is only as effective as its employees – if they’re not being well looked after, the business will suffer. If an employee feels stressed, anxious or depressed because of factors related to their work, not only will the quality of the work suffer but the employee will record more days off sick than they otherwise would have done.

However, those who do feel the effects of stress, anxiety and depression as a result of their jobs are likely to blame their absences on other factors – there remains a stigma around the issue of mental health and this prevents people from freely admitting it to their friends and colleagues. Employees who do suffer from these problems may feel as though they will be treated differently or even let go if they admit to it.

It is clear that attitudes, both in admitting and dealing with mental and emotional health issues, need to change. However, workplace culture, leadership and management also need to become more understanding and flexible with regard to ensuring that employee wellbeing levels can improve.

While employee wellbeing is often referred to as one of the responsibilities of the HR department, it is important to recognise that it’s ultimately an issue that affects all departments. Every team therefore has a responsibility to do what it can to improve and maintain a high standard of employee wellbeing.

This means that learning and development has a role to play here. Unlike HR and senior management, L&D isn’t in a position to offer flexitime or lessen the amount of tasks a certain employee is required to do, but it can still have a major influence on employees’ mental wellbeing.

Employee wellbeing education

One of the most obvious ways in which L&D can positively influence employee wellbeing is by educating teams and individuals about the importance of mental wellbeing in the workplace while ensuring that everyone knows it isn’t something to demonise or be ashamed of.

Whether this takes the form of one-off training sessions or an ongoing course that encourages the de-stigmatisation of mental health, the L&D department should focus on the areas surrounding mental health and avoid delving too deeply or specifically into any root causes or medical aspects. This is the sort of area in which a professional should be involved, so if one can be consulted or asked to come in and present to the team, that possibility should be explored.

Train managers to support team members

As part of employee wellbeing education, L&D programmes should also focus specifically on training managers and business leaders to enable them to support their teams. They may not be able to facilitate a complete culture change within the organisation, but they can take some of the pressure off individuals to prevent them breaking down.

The main issue is that a lot of managers don’t know what they should do, so they do nothing – a lot of the time, all it takes is an employee being able to approach them and have an honest chat about the way work is affecting them. It doesn’t require a lot of L&D training to help facilitate these chats – a lot of problems can be avoided if managers simply make themselves personable and approachable.

Promote L&D

It has long been known that the more engaged an employee is with his or her work, the more productive they will be. They will also work at a higher standard because they want to see the company achieve its goals and achieve personally along with it.

We already know that the more engaged an employee is, the stronger their mental wellbeing will be. It follows, therefore, that L&D can strengthen employees’ wellbeing simply by implementing normal training programmes. It should be doing this anyway, but the effect on wellbeing is an added bonus. It is important that employees know they can improve their skills and learn to perform different tasks to potentially further their careers.

Surveys

Additionally, L&D should partner with HR to produce surveys and questionnaires to ensure that employees are getting everything they want out of their learning and development and their work in general. If they feel as though their time is being wasted and they’re not learning what they need to in order to progress, they will become dissatisfied with their position, perhaps becoming more depressed and stressed out and eventually burning out.

It’s important, then, for L&D departments to use survey results to devise tailored training programmes for each individual. They need to be able to express what’s working for them and what they would like to learn more of – if they feel they’re making progress in their careers, they will be more engaged and less stressed about other parts of their jobs.

It may not feel as though learning and development initiatives can have as direct an impact on employee wellbeing as other departments, but a solid L&D programme will undoubtedly improve employee engagement and in turn impact positively on their wellbeing. If there wasn’t enough of a reason to invest and implement L&D initiatives, the positive impact on employee mental health should convince boards and management to promote it even more than they already are.

You can read more about this topic in issue 5 of the Thales L&D Enhance magazine.