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Learning and development is good for employees' mental health

Four business colleagues working in pairs with a laptop

From the uncertainty of Covid-19, to the current economic pressures, it has been a challenging few years for employees and mental wellbeing has been pushed up the corporate agenda.

In response, many organisations are have developed policies to support employee wellbeing in a variety of ways, including helplines, wellbeing days, resilience training and mental health awareness courses.

Such initiatives are undoubtedly worthwhile, but did you know that mental health benefits can be gained from all kinds of training, not just those that are focused specifically on wellbeing?

Secondary benefits

The Open University (OU) recently teamed up with TrainingZone and The 5% Club to investigate the impact of learning and development (L&D) on employee wellbeing.

They found that training programmes designed to enhance people's skills and career prospects have a positive impact on mental health. Almost all of the 564 senior HR and L&D professionals surveyed said they saw a link between L&D activity and wellbeing.

From short, internally delivered courses to vocational qualifications, apprenticeships and university degrees, skills training produces a wide range of secondary benefits including enhanced mental health and stress management, greater engagement and better retention.

And businesses which overtly prioritise training and learning get the broadest range of benefits -- indicating that the more committed an organisation is to L&D, the greater the returns.

'Engaged and loyal workforce'

The findings don't mean that there is no need for wellbeing programmes specifically focused on mental health and stress reduction. These form part of an "ecosystem of support", according to Kris Ambler of the British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP).

"It's vitally important that organisations provide an ecosystem of support for their employees, which can include psycho-education awareness, and it is very important senior leaders are on board with that," Ambler said. "We don't want wellbeing-washing. We want to see organisations making sound investments and set that down in a strategy the same way they would their financial strategy. Your financial health is very much dependent on your people."

"Employers know that wellbeing needs to be addressed," added Phil Kenmore, director of Corporate Development and Partnerships at The Open University. "That could be how they can help staff cope with cost-of-living crisis or personal challenges. Programmes need to be put into place to respond to a crisis, or a difficult time.

"However, wellbeing also needs to be addressed at a cultural level within the organisation. Positive mental health goes hand in hand with an engaged and loyal workforce. Our new report shows exactly how training and career development can have a proactive impact on wellbeing in the workplace."

L&D budgets under threat

Despite the broad range of benefits, the OU survey showed that over the next 12 months many organisations are planning to cut their investment in L&D -- including short courses and long-term training as well as mental health programmes.

"Organisations look at where they can cut costs and they can sometimes see these schemes as a cost not a long-term benefit," said Mark Cameron, CEO of The 5% Club. "The flip side is that those who hold their nerve, when they get to the other side of a downturn, they are always in a stronger position while the others are playing catch up. People should not be seen as a cost, but viewed as an asset; and like all assets they merit investment. Such an approach can give a business the strategic edge."

Posted by Fidelius on April 17th 2023

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