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The role of L&D in workplace wellbeing

Workplace wellbeing is a strategic issue that Learning and Development teams can take a proactive lead on. People are a company’s greatest asset, and if they aren’t healthy and happy, the consequences impact not only the bottom line but also the wider economy and society.

Serious players are now leading the way, like HSBC, where CEO John Flint has ambitions to turn his global company into the “the healthiest human system” in the banking sector. His vision is not a fluffy exercise, it’s all about performance. Speaking at Davos last month, he said: “There’s a profound difference between when I’m feeling my best and when I’m not.”

Wellbeing is a broad concept, encompassing people’s physical, social and mental health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) includes it in its definition of health – “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Ignoring these issues in the workplace can increase absenteeism and reduce productivity. Looking at the figures, absence costs are estimated to be around £1,100 to £1,400 per employee in the private sector (Deloitte, 2017), and employers’ costs for mental health-related presenteeism are between £17 to £26 billion (Stevenson and Farmer 2017). According to the Lancet Commission of 28 global specialists in mental and public health, mental health disorders could cost the global economy up to 16 trillion dollars by 2030.

What is UK Plc’s current wellbeing strategy?

CIPD’s 2018 health and wellbeing survey of 1021 organisations reported that two-fifths of businesses have a standalone wellbeing strategy; while nearly three-fifths say they act as and when, according to individual need. When it comes to the importance placed on the topic by senior leaders, just over half say that wellbeing is on the agenda, with just under half saying that their line managers have bought into the importance of wellbeing. But nearly 20% report that their organisation is not doing anything to improve employee health and wellbeing.

Again at Davos last month, Heads Together founder the Duke of Cambridge said that only 2% of the UK workforce talk to their HR departments about mental health. This statistic suggests that even where a wellbeing strategy is operation, much more needs to be done to encourage open communication. As custodians of a business’s future leadership, L&D professionals need to ensure that wellbeing interventions happen more frequently and openly. In our experience running courses on optimising personal energy and wellbeing, we’ve noticed that it’s the companies where leaders are open and honest about their own mental health that the topic is really beginning to make a positive difference.

Here are some tips on how to embed your L&D activities within your company’s wellbeing agenda:

Be strategic about the health challenge for your business

Prevention is far more cost-effective than treatment. This was underlined by the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who stated that preventative healthcare is a key priority for his job. Employer medical costs are due to rise by 8% in 2019 according to research from AON, so health promotion initiatives that help employees manage their health and wellbeing are a wise investment. Thriving at Work, an independent review of mental health and employers, found that for every £1 invested in a proactive approach to supporting mental health in the workplace, the return was an impressive £4.20.

Construction firm Tideway, building the new Thames Tideway Sewer in London, has devised a range of health promotion packages to suit its employees – many of whom spend long hours away from their homes – from block bookings of health and dental care to yoga classes and neck massages.

What makes your company tick?

Put together wellbeing programmes that suit your particular employees. As L&D leaders, your in-depth company knowledge means you can calibrate interventions that are suited to your people’s specific needs and preferences.

For example, some companies and individuals will enjoy learning how to maximise their competitive edge and productivity. Others will want to increase their ability to focus or remain creative under pressure.

One size does not fit all

With five generations making up the workforce at the moment, it is important to remember that attitudes and knowledge of wellbeing vary greatly.

Wellbeing is almost where physical health was 20 years ago. Back then work colleagues rarely discussed going to the gym, whereas now it’s commonplace. Similarly, if you mention meditation to a room full of people today many will still turn off, because they have an image of someone sitting cross-legged and chanting ‘OMM’. But showing how easily it dovetails with an existing exercise routine gives employees something they can grasp.

Providing an environment that allows individuals to thrive is also a really good selling point when it comes to attracting high performing individuals and graduates.  Be aware that people will typically want the science behind wellbeing. How does your wellbeing programme benefit leaders and their teams?

Be clear on the context in which wellbeing training is being offered

The last thing you want is for your employees to feel they are going to wellbeing training just because your company wants them to work harder. This is where clarity is vital. Explain the benefits of the course and how it fits into your business’s overall plans. The fantastic thing about wellbeing programmes is that they benefit home-life as well as work.

Lastly…find champions

Companies like Crossrail have established a network of wellbeing champions – engaged staff who work to cultivate an open culture, particularly around mental health-related issues.  They are invaluable as a two-way channel for cross-company engagement as well, by feeding back on the wellbeing strategy as it is cascaded.

If wellbeing is on your agenda this year, we can help by offering a number of bite-sized courses and succinct training programmes across a wide range of topics. This includes a resilience overview, a five-part resilience programme and mindfulness sessions – taught by a team who are passionate about the subject.


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