Workplace wellbeing has been a heavily covered topic in the pages of SBT. Now, the first systematic review of wellbeing training has shown which types and formats of training are most effective to support wellbeing in addition to learning. We take a look at the findings, which finally provide some solutions to keeping staff well in the workplace.

We are all aware that keeping our brains stimulated helps us to thrive in our daily lives, and learning throughout our lives is inevitably good for wellbeing. Research has shown that taking a part-time course for work over the past year has been estimated to give wellbeing benefits equivalent to £1,584 of income. Continued learning provides people with greater satisfaction and optimism; a greater ability to cope with stress; more feelings of self-esteem, hope and purpose; more positive feelings of achievement; and even stronger social relationships due to interacting more.

So it’s safe to say that learning improves our wellbeing. However, many people don’t think about the ins and outs of their wellbeing, often leading to wellness being put on the side line and forgotten about. Improving wellbeing at work has been a large focus for the UK recently, with the impact of declining mental health in the workforce becoming more and more of a problem. We’ve discussed the topic of mental health in the workplace time and time again, but there’s rarely been a solution for what employers can do to combat staff wellbeing issues. Perhaps education is the key…

An international review of evidence on workplace learning recently showed that workplace training specifically designed to teach people about and therefore improve wellbeing is effective. Finally, we have a solution!

The study, from the What Works Centre for Wellbeing looking at 41 published papers on the subject, revealed that regardless of what kind of training is used, the majority of techniques had a positive impact: from mindfulness to problem solving, life skills to happiness. There were some stand out positive findings for particular professional roles and sectors. For example: sleep training was very beneficial for teachers, relaxation of benefit to health workers, stress management for manufacturing and government departments, empowerment training and mindfulness for social care workers, resilience for Junior Doctors, and meditation awareness training for middle management.
However, the success of wellbeing training was not found to be universal, and equally there was some training that simply didn’t improve wellbeing. Four published studies showed no positive wellbeing benefits. Online training without additional interactive elements were limited in their effectiveness, reflecting the importance of how the training is carried out and supported. E-learning may be cost effective, but early evidence suggests that leadership or manager support training was far less likely to offer wellbeing benefits when the online training was only self-directed.

There were some training topics that weren’t compatible with certain sectors or roles also. For example, Self Awareness training wasn’t effective for various roles, Resilience Services wasn’t effective for sales managers’ wellbeing, and neither was stress management for manufacturing or identity training for stress management for Nurses. The review also found that in some sectors, training to improve professional capabilities, such as emotional intelligence or conflict management, may also have positive wellbeing benefits for the learner.
Theory would suggest that an individual’s wellbeing could improve after professional development, where the learnt skills can be put into practice. However, despite the positive findings so far, we still need the evidence to understand impacts in a work context. Very few studies outside of the health and social care sector measure ‘wellbeing’ outcomes after training. Evidence is limited to the health and social care sector, where professional skills tend to relate to wellbeing.

It seems obvious that training managers to support their staff, training in mental health awareness, and leadership training would improve wellbeing of the leaders and their reporting staff. However, businesses still aren’t investing enough in this type of training.
Olga Tregaskis, Professor of International Human Resource Management, UEA said: “Workplace training and development has the potential to deliver wellbeing benefits in addition to improved organisational performance. Employee wellbeing is critical to sustainable performance and leading firms recognise the importance of embedding wellbeing within their management practice.”
Training employees to better cope is not the end of the story though. Wellbeing is also highly dependent on job quality, including autonomy and social relations, where employers should focus effort. Equally, employers need to understand what the best approach for their staff is, and which training would be of most benefit when.

Head of Evidence at What Works Centre for Wellbeing, Sara MacLennan agreed that continuing on this course of research is the best way forward for businesses: “We have strong evidence that training for wellbeing is effective and a wide range of approaches work. But we don’t yet have enough evidence to rank approaches and say which works better for different groups and contexts. This is where we turn around and ask the business sector to make sure they are evaluating any wellbeing training they carry out, and share the results with us, so we can continue to build the evidence base on what works.”

She added: “Employers need to understand what the specific issues are for their employees in each context to find the training which is likely to be most effective. A particular teacher may have challenges ‘letting go of work’ at the end of the day and would benefit from relaxation and sleep training to help with the restoration process. However, this will be less relevant for other teachers. Another group of distributed employees may have challenges in the workplace stemming from communication – a training to improve communication methods may be most appropriate.

“We need to build the evidence base to understand which types of approaches in different contexts can be most effective – and try new, innovative approaches and methods of delivery.”