How to improve employee well-being through workplace training

Shira Smolko

A lot has happened over the past couple of years, and many of us are not okay.

Between political and social unrest, a global pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living, it is only natural that we’ve been preoccupied.

While this has many personal implications, our emotional wellness also extends into the workplace. Mental illness is now the leading cause of sickness, absence, and long-term work incapacity in Australia. Each year $543 million is paid in workers’ compensation for work-related mental health conditions.

Workplaces have not only obligations to employees around mental health under the Work Health and Safety Act but also have much to gain from cultivating mentally healthy environments

  • A total of 3.2 days per worker are lost each year through workplace stress
  • A survey of over 5000 workers indicated that 25% of workers took time off each year for stress-related reasons
  • Preliminary research shows that Australian businesses lose over $6.5 billion yearly by failing to provide early intervention/treatment for employees with mental health conditions.

The cost of ignoring the problem is far greater than the cost of developing and implementing strategies to create a safe and healthy workplace. However, although organisations largely have the best intentions around mental health, they don’t always have the practical skills to manage employee issues effectively. 

Prevention is better than cure 

Research shows that the risk and protective factors inherent in work environments can be controlled and enhanced to promote positive mental health and well-being. Implementing preventative actions at the individual, team, and organisational levels can reduce stigma. Additionally, this will assist people in identifying mental health issues in themselves and their colleagues, promote early and appropriate help-seeking, and ensure people are appropriately supported to remain connected to work or make an adequate return to work if the absence has been necessary.

Offer opportunities for growth

People love to learn and feel they have opportunities to progress, which is why great employee well-being includes having the opportunity to grow. According to Skillsoft’s IT Skills and Salary Report 2022, employees that switched employers within the past year cited a lack of growth and development opportunities as their top two reasons for doing so, second only to better compensation and to take precedence over work/life balance.

When employees do not feel inspired and the company does not support their progression, their workplace satisfaction and well-being will drop. That is why companies are offering more career mobility opportunities, which support employees who want to move across different departments or even change their occupations.

Leadership education in employee well-being

Managers are often the first person to spot when an employee is struggling with their well-being at work and similarly the first port of call for an employee to discuss their mental health concerns. As a result, it’s essential for all managers to be trained on how best to navigate sensitive conversations around employee mental health and well-being. 

Training that reinforces a personalised approach to employees and the need for empathy will be most effective to help leaders learn to adjust their styles based on the individual requirements of team members. Workplace well-being is not one size fits all and can’t be treated as such.

Improve awareness of employee well-being

While it is not easy to create fundamental cultural change, there are two key questions that your organisation can ask to support mental health awareness and employee well-being through training.

  1. Who needs training? Identify the specific roles within your organisation that are associated with high-stress levels and develop a succinct training curriculum tailored to those positions. For example, the vast majority of retail and fast food workers have experienced abuse from customers, but many customer-facing employees lack the training to manage abusive behaviour from members of the public, and support following such incidents is also often lacking.

Employees who are at risk of discrimination – such as those with disabilities or those from minority ethnic groups – still face barriers to work. Appropriate training could help workers practise better self-care and improve the way they interact with colleagues and customers who are at greater risk of discrimination.

  1. What do they need to know? Implement a training curriculum that will help to normalise mental health issues and provide a safe space to talk about employee well-being initiatives. Getting everyone within your organisation on the same page about these key issues is a good way to create a shared understanding of your organisation’s goals and expectations and reduce the stigma around mental health.

The bottom line for business is that every dollar spent on evidence-informed interventions to improve mental health and well-being brings a return of up to $14 in reduced absenteeism, increased productivity and reduction in compensation claims. It can also help create a workforce that is resilient to workplace stress, boost staff morale, help establish an organisation as an employer of choice and ensure that more of your people are doing the best job they can do for more of the time.

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