L&D Strategic Impact: Wellbeing

March 08, 2022

The Strategic Importance of Well-being

Integrating new data highlights the strategic significance of employee wellbeing. According to Gallup, employees who feel their employer cares about their overall wellbeing are:

  • 69% less likely to seek new jobs,
  • 71% less likely to experience burnout, 
  • 3x more engaged, and
  • 5x more likely to strongly advocate for their company as a place to work and to strongly agree they trust the leadership of their organization.

Furthermore, such teams show higher engagement, profitability, and productivity, with reduced turnover and safety incidents.

The World Health Organization underscores the risks of poor working environments on mental health, with an estimated 12 billion workdays lost annually due to depression and anxiety, costing about US$ 1 trillion in lost productivity. These statistics further reinforce the business case for prioritizing employee health and wellbeing, enhancing organizational resilience.

The Essential Role of L&D in Honest, People-Centric Well-being Initiatives

Based on the Health and Wellbeing at Work report (CIPD, 2022) the most common causes of stress at work (in %) are:

Stressors related to company operations often arise from elements beyond standard HR tasks, such as the business model, organizational structure, and process design. Nevertheless, Learning and Development (L&D) departments can play a significant role in alleviating these stressors.

A colleague from HR once expressed to me their desire to support employees immediately, despite understanding that ideally, structural changes starting from the top would be more effective but take years to implement. They wanted to help staff cope with stress in the current, less-than-ideal environment.

This underlines the importance of transparency in our approach to well-being initiatives. Often, employees may view these programs skeptically, questioning their effectiveness in light of unaddressed issues like workload or compensation. They might think, “You’re offering me stress management training, but what about reducing my workload or increasing my pay?”

My own experiences as a psychologist have shaped my perspective on this. While conducting stress management training for various clients, I encountered a group resistant to my established methods. This challenging experience taught me a valuable lesson. By abandoning my usual slide presentations for a more open, non-directive approach, I discovered that these individuals were operating in a toxic work environment and perceived our training as manipulative. They felt the training implied that future stress was their own fault.

From this, I learned the importance of carefully assessing the needs and underlying concerns of clients. To effectively implement well-being initiatives, we must first ensure they genuinely meet the needs of our people. Secondly, we must communicate our intentions clearly and honestly. Otherwise, people may rightfully resist our efforts.

Now, let`s look at the programs L&D can provide to support employees’ well-being.

Empowering leadership: alleviating workplace stress and promoting mental well-being

A significant study, “A Meta-Analysis of the Relative Contribution of Leadership Styles to Followers’ Mental Health” (Montano, Schleu & Hüffmeier, 2023), encompassing 53 studies and 93,470 participants, highlights a strong link between leadership style and employee mental health. Key to promoting positive mental health are relation-oriented and task-oriented leadership styles.

Gallup research indicates that managers contribute to 70% of the variance in team engagement, a factor L&D can positively influence through management development programs. From a wellbeing perspective, it is crucial to assist new managers in quickly adapting to their roles. Managers well-versed in their work scope, including procedures and external team interactions, are more adept at planning and delegating tasks efficiently. This capability goes beyond planning and organizing; it’s about comprehensively understanding job requirements. Mentorship often proves more effective than formal training in this aspect.

Enhancing project management, planning, organizing, and time management skills can also significantly contribute. Managers who excel in these areas avoid imposing last-minute tasks, preventing a chaotic work environment.

Effective delegation ensures equitable work distribution, clarity of responsibilities, regular manager-employee interaction, and timely feedback and guidance. This can markedly reduce situations where employees are left uncertain about their progress, unable to access crucial information, or forced to make last-minute changes to their work.

Moreover, proficient communication skills can substantially alleviate stressors such as undue criticism or a lack of feedback. Skilled communicators are also adept at setting boundaries and shielding their teams from unrealistic expectations from clients or the organization. Furthermore, managers act as the frontline defense against escalating team conflicts.

Well-crafted management development programs offer opportunities to address and normalize common managerial challenges. These include striking the right balance between trust and control, navigating the dual roles of ‘boss’ and ‘friend,’ and managing multiple stakeholders with conflicting needs. Assisting managers in finding effective strategies for these challenges eases their burden and readies them for a crucial role in the wellbeing strategy.

Beyond preventing daily stressors, managers are vital in identifying mental health issues within their teams and responding swiftly. Since this isn’t an innate skill for many, L&D should focus on training managers to check in with team members regularly, recognize early signs of mental health issues, and know when and how to refer employees to professional help.

By supporting managers in this role, we indirectly yet profoundly impact the organizational culture, contributing to the destigmatization of mental health issues and promoting a culture where seeking help is normalized.

To summarize, investing time and effort to build great managers in your organization will contribute to achieving business results and drive well-being by creating a culture of care.

Enhancing Resilience: L&D’s Role in Cultivating Stress Management and Healthy Living Skills in the Workplace

A second strategy for L&D in bolstering company-wide well-being is to develop and enhance employees’ stress management skills.

Given that all work environments have their imperfections, stress is a common experience. Whether it’s due to new managerial roles, demanding projects, heavy workloads, challenging colleagues, or difficult clients, these stressors are encountered with varying frequency. Therefore, it’s beneficial for everyone to comprehend the nature of stress, its reasons for existence, and effective coping strategies.

However, expecting everyone to recognize this need or be eager to learn about it is unrealistic. As L&D professionals, our responsibility is to heighten employee awareness of how certain difficulties can be mitigated through effective stress management strategies. For instance, adjusting our expectations of client behavior can lessen the impact of their negative actions.

To raise this awareness, we can craft messages acknowledging their struggles and explain how our programs can help alleviate or prevent them. Providing a self-assessment tool for stress management can help employees identify areas for improvement and motivate them to embrace change.

From my experience, the most effective stress management programs are practical and tailored to specific contexts. This approach allows participants to discuss and experiment with new methods directly applicable to their work scenarios. Groups composed of individuals from similar work environments are particularly resourceful, as they often have valuable insights and solutions to share, benefiting the entire group. Realizing that one is not alone in facing particular challenges is itself a significant source of relief.

Another effective method in my workshops has been to invite respected senior company figures to share their personal journeys in developing resilience. Choosing the right person for this role is crucial – someone who is dedicated to their personal growth, reflective, and keen on helping others develop. Their stories are invaluable, as they normalize the issues faced by employees and implicitly validate their feelings.

These senior figures can also offer specific advice on handling particular scenarios. For example, they can share strategies for following up on important emails that require a response from senior management. In a company where I consulted, this was a frequent source of stress. The senior manager guest speaker provided clear guidelines on a “gradual escalation” strategy for such situations, which participants very well received as they learned practical, culturally endorsed techniques.

In addition to psychological resilience, L&D can support physical resilience by offering resources and training sessions focused on healthy eating habits, lifestyle choices, and reducing the risk of chronic health conditions. These initiatives can go beyond mere information dissemination by fostering communities centered on interests like healthy nutrition. It’s much easier to adopt new meal preparation habits when sharing recipes and cooking tips with colleagues than when attempting these changes in isolation.

The final concept for enhancing employee skills centers on personal finance management. Financial constraints often rank among the most significant stress factors in an employee’s life. A comprehensive course that addresses personal budgeting, debt management, insurance, and retirement planning could empower individuals to increase their savings and minimize unnecessary debts. This approach not only aids in financial well-being but also reduces related stress.

Wellbeing: a great opportunity for L&D’s strategic impact

To wrap up, the strategic role of Learning and Development in nurturing mental health and fostering a culture of care within an organization cannot be overstated. By equipping managers and employees with the tools and skills necessary for managing stress, personal finance, and healthy lifestyle habits, L&D directly contributes to a more resilient, engaged, and productive workforce. This, in turn, has far-reaching implications for the overall success and sustainability of the organization.

As we’ve seen, the strategic importance of well-being, highlighted at the outset, is not just a theoretical concept but a tangible asset that drives business performance, employee satisfaction, and organizational health. Therefore, it’s crucial that L&D is not just a participant but a key driver in the formulation and execution of any well-being strategy, ensuring it`s not just an aspiration but a foundational element of the company’s strategic vision.