Employers and employees are facing a mental health crisis. The post-Covid hybrid working world is putting pressure on workforces in terms of personal connection, productivity, and the pressure to ‘just get things done’.

The latest Business Barometer report also revealed that the persisting skills shortage has a knock-on effect on existing staff morale and wellbeing, with three in four (72%) reporting increased workload on existing staff. This together, against an ongoing backdrop of economic challenges is undoubtedly having an immense impact on employee pressure and stress in both their personal and working lives. And employees are now increasingly looking to the employer for support and a helping hand.

Many organisations are responding with a range of different wellbeing programmes but may be struggling to understand ways to support employees’ wellbeing in the long term. Employee wellbeing needs to be addressed at both an individual and cultural level within an organisation.

Working with TrainingZone, The Open University and The 5% Club recently launched a report, L&D’s role in employee wellbeing, which explored the risk of organisations take by de-prioritising the individual and uncovered the strong links between learning and development and enhanced employee wellbeing.

The risk of de-prioritising the individual

Employees are prioritising their wellbeing at work and the last year has seen the rise of workplace trends including ‘quiet quitting’ and the ‘great resignation’. Employees are expecting and actively looking for commitment from organisations to individual wellbeing and development, especially in the current candidate-driven market. This, along with the continuing widening skills gap within the UK, is meaning retention of desirable talent is becoming a significant problem for organisations that do not have a supportive culture in place.

Unfortunately, in response to the fiscal challenges, organisations are seeking to make budget cuts. Learning and development, alongside marketing, are often the first areas to be squeezed. The L&D’s role in employee wellbeing report reflects this, with survey results revealing that fewer organisations will invest in university degrees, industry accreditation, Level 2-3 apprenticeships and mentoring over the next year.  Learning and development spend is often seen as discretionary when in fact it is critical to long-term planning. Not only do staff feel demotivated and unimportant, but employers then find themselves short of the talent and skills they need to be competitive and to grow in the long term when the wider economy recovers.

Research amongst HR professionals credits stress and burnout as the main cause of staff turnover in recent months.  This, together with the increased awareness of mental health within the workforce itself, means it is vital for organisations to be attuned to, and aware of the impact of mental health on the individual employee. And making learning and development easily available is a great way of giving staff wellbeing a strong boost.

Learning & development – the key to better employee wellbeing?

The recent wellbeing report survey has found that almost all (96%) respondents reported a link between learning and development programmes and wellbeing, whether that be investment from shorter term or longer-term courses. Respondents from earn-and-learn employer movement, The 5% Club, found that organisations who have demonstrated a commitment to long-term L&D programmes against organisations without the same commitment have seen a stark difference on employee engagement. Almost twice as many members of The 5% Club reported a positive impact from training and upskilling on employee wellbeing, engagement, and retention in comparison to typical organisations, demonstrating that prioritising the individual will result in improved wellbeing in a market where suitable candidates are limited.

And the striking finding from the report was that any type of training offered these benefits – not just wellbeing-focused courses. The 5% Club reports a 94% increase in employee engagement from long-term skills training compared to only 42% of typical organisations. This is a similar case for short-term training programmes too. By showcasing commitment to developing an individual, organisations will gain more highly skilled workers, greater employee engagement, improved retention and see a positive impact on their organisation’s culture too.

Although employee wellbeing continues to be a focus for employers, interestingly, investment in specific mental wellbeing courses is not the only effective method of improving employee morale. The survey found that nearly the same proportion of respondents saw an immediate improvement in overall wellbeing after conducting either a wellbeing course or a short training course unrelated to wellbeing. This suggests that specific mental health training is not the only way to improve employee wellbeing and should be part of a wider training mix that feeds into the wider employee culture.

Partnering with organisations to offer learning and development programmes can also unearth hidden talent pools who may have been missed by traditional educational routes. For example, The Open University’s partnership with Uber offers undergraduate education to eligible drivers or a family member, as part of its Uber Rides loyalty programme. This innovative partnership shows how such programmes can also help with attraction and retention and gives people from diverse and under-represented backgrounds the opportunity to grow into a new career and a positive future.

Five key takeaways

So what can organisations do now to improve employee wellbeing? Here are five tips you can take away to your organisation.

  1. Look at learning and development as a long-term business investment, not a cost.
  2. View training as part of your overall wellbeing strategy and wider offer opportunities alongside wellbeing awareness courses.
  3. Make education a key point of your business culture and offering to employees – to drive attraction and retention.
  4. Offer a wide range of long-term skills training, short-term skills training and wellbeing-focused programmes – they all have positive impact on your employees’ wellbeing.
  5. Work with a provider that can offer flexible programmes that are suitable for employees who may have missed out on traditional education.
Phil Kenmore
Director Corporate Development & Partnership at The Open University | Website | + posts

Phil Kenmore is the Director Corporate Development & Partnership at The Open University. Phil leads the work to support private and public sector organisations in developing their people and building talent to help solve skills, training, recruitment and retention issues.