April is National Stress Awareness Month and, according to the Health and Safety Executive, stress is now one of the most common causes of long-term sick leave at work.  Along with anxiety and depression, it accounted for in excess of 17 million working days lost in the UK in 2021/22, or 51% of all cases of work-related illnesses in the same year.

It is predicted that the cost of sickness benefits will surge by more than a third by the end of the decade amid a sharp rise in claims for mental health conditions, including stress.

As a result, gone are the days when health was a private, personal matter and employers did not take any responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their people (even if they were part of the problem).

Investing in Wellbeing

Today, employers understand the importance of mental health and wellbeing, not only to prevent absenteeism or churn, but because they also understand that a thriving, successful business depends upon happy, healthy and productive people, working collaboratively to deliver more than the sum of their parts.

As Paul Devoy (CEO of Investors in People) says, “for every £1 an organisation invests in wellbeing support they can expect a return of £9 on investment”.

But “wellbeing” is complex and means different things to different people. Every business and working environment is unique, and so finding effective, practical, innovative and authentic solutions to invest in a company’s most precious asset, its people, remains an ongoing challenge.

Stress: Cause and Effect

Since we know that stress is one of the most common causes of mental ill health, understanding and focusing on ways to reduce stress might be a good place to start.

Some stress is a natural, necessary, part of life and we cannot, or perhaps, should not avoid stressful situations which can, at times, inspire incredible achievement, stemming from our most primal instincts for “fight or flight”.  But stress can become chronic and be extremely damaging to individuals and those around them.

Chronic stress can be hard to identify because the myriad symptoms are complex, varying from person to person, and may remain hidden for a long time, even from the sufferer themselves.


The symptoms of stress can be divided into four categories:

Cognitive: Memory, concentration, insomnia

Emotional:        Irritability, tearfulness, low motivation and self-esteem, lack of confidence and social anxiety

Physical:             Illness, such as diabetes, infections, chest pain, back pain, headaches and digestive problems, skin problems and weight loss or gain

Behavioural:    Inability to relax and switch off, negative behaviour / habits such as drinking and smoking, aggression, emotional outbursts, becoming withdrawn.


The symptoms of stress are often similar to the factors which cause them. For example, social anxiety, loneliness, isolation, lack of meaning and purpose and inability to accept things beyond our control.  Poor diet, poor sleep quality and lack of exercise are typical stress factors.  Financial worries, poor time management, conflict and an inability to switch off and relax are common culprits.  It is a long list and, in reality, can turn into a vicious circle.

Sociable Learning 

There are different theories and approaches to preventing and managing stress but consider one simple (if radical) strategy: Sociable Learning in the office.

Learning how to reduce stress through diet, sleep quality and effective time and financial management all form important cornerstones for our wellbeing.  Improving our knowledge around these topics is a hugely important foundation for improving workplace health.

Beyond Subject Matter

Whilst increased knowledge is, of course, part of the reason for learning, the true benefits for our state of mind arise from the learning process itself, and extend beyond the confines of any particular subject matter. It is the mindset, curiosity, creativity and  interactions with other, likeminded people, that hold the most value.

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling, but of a lifelong attempt to acquire it.” – Albert Einstein

According to clinical and academic psychiatrist, Professor Neil Greenberg, social cohesion helps protect against stress and the NHS “5 steps to mental wellbeing” include both “Connect with Other People” and “Learn New Skills”.

So, the idea of learning new skills, broadening our knowledge and deepening our understanding of the world around us, together with likeminded people, would appear to be a good one.

As children we take learning for granted. Indeed, it is expected of us. The people who care for and about us endeavour to give us as many opportunities to learn as possible but, sadly, rather than an education for its own sake, the primary objective all too often seems to be to pass exams in order to get a job.  For most of us, once we leave our full-time education, continuing that wider learning journey becomes almost impossible.  Few of us have the time and inclination to sign up (and persevere with) an evening, week-end class or on-line course.

Until perhaps we retire, somewhat undermining the concept of “lifelong” learning.

So, how can we continue our lifelong learning journey during our busy lives, filled with work pressures and family commitments?

Could Sociable Learning reduce stress and improve wellbeing?

The simple answer is enlightened employers giving back some of the precious time that their employees give to them during the most stressful and busy periods of their lives, by investing in them to further their education and develop new skills in subjects that they are genuinely interested in, outside the normal corporate training courses that are necessary to do their job.

So, what would you like to learn?

Put yourself in the shoes of your employees.  Imagine your employer offering you the chance to study a subject that you were actually interested in, together with likeminded people in the office.  Perhaps philosophy, art or ancient history; literature or chess; music, photography, or magic?

Just being offered the opportunity is an incredibly powerful demonstration of an authentic commitment by your employer to your personal development, mental health and wellbeing.

The transformative effect of Sociable Learning: what we gain from the process of learning

If lifelong learning is essential for personal and professional development, mental health and wellbeing, then perhaps it offers a simple and holistic answer to employee engagement, mental health and wellbeing that has been long staring us in the face?

The following are examples of how Sociable Learning within any working environment can help turn stressed, de-motivated and disengaged employees into mentally resilient, confident, creative and collaborative people, unlocking their potential and supercharging both personal and organisational performance.

Curiosity, creativity, collaboration and connection

Engaging with new ideas, being curious, creative and collaborative helps us to form strong, positive bonds with others through a shared purpose and to develop a sense of belonging.

Critical thinking

Building our knowledge and exploring new concepts or ways to do things requires analysis of methods, logic, facts and opinions, and so enhances our critical thinking skills.

Empathy, compassion, diversity and inclusion

Learning exposes us to diverse viewpoints, cultures and experiences.  It fosters empathy and compassion through the exploration of fresh perspectives and helps us to learn more about, understand and respect others, managing conflict and improving cultural diversity and inclusion at the same time.

Risk, Trust and Problem Solving

Working together and “failing forward”.  Being unafraid to take risks and make mistakes in order to grow.  Away from strictly “work” related topics, people might feel more able to safely take risks and find creative solutions to problems, perhaps breaking down the normal hierarchies and silos that inevitably develop within a professional or commercial environment.

“To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.”



Lifelong learning has a profound impact on wellbeing, providing us with many invaluable skills which help us respond positively to life’s everyday challenges so that those challenges do not become overwhelming and stressful.  It can also be a powerful tool for business, helping to build a culture of collaboration, trust and creativity, where innovation is not only allowed, but expected.

Successful businesses are outward looking and constantly learning, evolving and adapting.  They are resilient to the challenges of a fast-changing world and see those challenges as opportunities to grow.  But a business is only as strong as its people, so it makes sense to foster that same spirit of curiosity and growth within the workforce.

Offering philosophy, art history, magic tricks, aromatherapy or literature workshops, lectures and courses to your employees requires vision from brave, enlightened leaders who truly value, and are happy to invest in, the person behind the employee.

A crazy idea or a ground-breaking approach to reducing stress and improving workplace culture and wellbeing for the benefit of all?

Curiosity is one of the great secrets of happiness.” – Bryant A. McGill

Be Enlightened. Be Inspired. Be Curious.

Karissa Hollis
Founder at Curious Vitae | Website | + posts

Karissa Hollis is the founder of Curious Vitae, a business specialising in transforming workplace culture through the power of Sociable Learning. Curious Vitae delivers exceptional, bespoke Sociable Learning programmes led by passionate experts who bring their subject to life in their unique way. Lectures, workshops and tutorial-based courses cover everything from philosophy to French, physics to fine art and music to magic. Each programme is tailor-made to meet the needs of both individuals and their employer.