How can L&D boost workforce wellbeing?

Richard Chappell, Managing Director at Wilson Learning, believes that by instilling the right skills in the leadership team via learning…

Wellbeing is increasingly a top agenda item for HR. Of course, this makes sense. Not only has the last year seen an increased focus on physical health due the acute, and ongoing, threat that COVID-19 poses; it has also seen more conversation around the financial impact of the pandemic on workers, as well as the mental strain they’ve had to endure. In fact, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that depression has been on the rise during the pandemic, which interestingly is supported by CIPD data reporting an increase in stress-related absences. Burnout, too, has been something that HR has had to grapple with.

Whilst there are instances of businesses taking a benefits-led, or community-centric approach to tackling the rise in wellbeing issues – for example, the dating app Bumble recently gave all their staff a bonus week off! More common place are the countless examples of organisations offering virtual fitness classes or an opportunity to have a remote coffee and chat – outside of these obvious approaches or focus areas, can wellbeing be boosted by an L&D strategy?

“Wellbeing needs to be on the business agenda because it is all about growth and sustaining performance.”

This is something that Richard Chappell, Managing Director at Wilson Learning, emphatically believes in. If an organisation’s leadership team develop and practice the right skills then the workforce’s environment and wellbeing have a better chance of being healthy. He explains: “It’s about building skills and capability in your management team. Wellbeing is not about providing free fruit and cakes.” In fact, Chappell argues that many firms might have something of a wellbeing hangover and are still going on about wellbeing in an outmoded manner – which won’t be good for them, or for business performance.

Chappell adds: “It wasn’t that long ago that workforce wellbeing was associated with dress down Friday or the company paying for a neck massage at your desk. This, along with free fruit are nice but, in my view, are not the drivers of wellbeing. Wellbeing needs to be on the business agenda because it is all about growth and sustaining performance. If you have a workforce that feel fulfilled in their work, have a high sense of wellbeing, then they are going to have a better work rate, better performance level, less sickness and absenteeism, resulting in a lower turnover of staff – in short, you’ve got a good workforce.”

For Chappell, there’s a clear link between HR helping managers create or develop the ‘right’ environment and a healthier or better level of workforce wellbeing. “It is less about gimmicks and one-off benefits but more about building skills and understanding around the wellbeing agenda. Away days and jolly stuff aren’t bad, don’t tag me as ‘The Grinch’ but, assuming they will lead to wellbeing without looking at the broader capability needs won’t cut it. If managers’ can meet the core needs of their staff and provide answers to five fundamental questions, they will have built the foundations of a healthy workforce environment. It’s from this, wellbeing and fulfilment can grow.”

Chappell explains: “The capability build has to focus on first and second-line managers, they’re the ones that will create the environment that allows wellbeing to thrive. They are the recipients of the learning but everyone in the entire organisation will benefit.” To help deliver this successfully, Chappell believes the right external partner should be chosen to ensure that learning hits the right wellbeing agenda points for that organisation and is delivered in a way that suits the needs of both the business and learners.

He says: “It doesn’t have to be rocket science, hopefully your chosen partner will start by consulting with you and your senior team to glean a clear picture of where you are and where you are aiming for. This may be supported by some group-wide assessments that will highlight any pinch points or clear development areas. These assessments needn’t be too complicated or expensive, but a little thought upfront will ensure the organisation has faith and trust in the data.”

“If an organisation’s leadership team develop and practice the right skills then the workforce’s environment and wellbeing have a better chance of being healthy.”

The benefit, Chappell believes, is if this process is successful, performance can be boosted across the organisation in the long term and drive some key HR metrics. “A workforce with a sense of wellbeing can achieve performance with fulfilment and heightened engagement, which we know reduces absenteeism and job-hopping, saving HR time and cost. The broader benefit for the organisation, once a ‘healthy’ environment has been created – is that workforce wellbeing and performance not only improves but is sustained over time, hence organisational growth, becomes a reality,” he says.

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