According to the Mental Health Index: U.S. Worker Edition, 70% of workers’ brain capacity was impaired to some degree by stress prior to the pandemic. More than a year later, new findings show incremental improvements, but the American Psychological Association (APA) issued a stark warning after their post-COVID survey: “We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.”
Fortunately, enterprise leaders are beginning to understand the critical role they play in the health and wellbeing of their employees. In fact, nine out of ten employers say they are planning to invest more in mental health benefits this year. However, diet, exercise, and meditation aren’t the only ways to combat stress and improve mental health in the workplace.
Mental health concerns paired with the looming challenges of digital transformation place IT upskilling programs hand-in-hand with employee wellness strategies.
The Unsung Mental Health Hero
Uncertainty about the future is one of the highest stressors among US adults, especially younger generations who are still trying to find their place in the world, both socially and professionally. Fueling this uncertainty are fears about job security and financial instability. Among several key findings, APA survey results suggest that one of the most impactful ways to improve mental health in the workplace is to provide more educational, training, and work opportunities, which can help employees see and plan a path forward.
The Link Between Learning & Mental Health
Neural pathways in the brain are like an intricate highway system that the brain uses to send and receive signals. The more that neurons are stimulated in the brain, the more neural pathways are created, and the faster signals can travel.
Continuous exposure to stress can damage these pathways and lead to excess production of the hormone, Cortisol. Collectively, these reactions can decrease processing speed and brain function. As you might have guessed, learning new skills is an effective way to stimulate neurons, build neural pathways, and increase neuroplasticity (The brain’s ability to form or regenerate neural pathways) which, in turn, improves brain function. But the benefits of lifelong learning go far beyond physiological activities in the brain.
Developing new skills has also been shown to improve self-esteem and self-confidence levels in employees. In turn, confidence reduces job-related stress and anxiety and provides a greater sense of purpose and optimism, especially for employees who are concerned about losing their job to AI and automated technology—and rightfully, so.
The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report (published in October of 2020) predicts that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced due to advances in technology and automation. However, an estimated 97 million new roles could emerge as a result to account for the division of labor between humans and machines. Herein lies the silver lining.
Mental Health Meets Opportunity
According to IBM’s 2021 CEO Study, 56% of CEOs emphasize the need to aggressively pursue operational agility and flexibility this year and site technological factors as the No.1 most important external force that will impact their enterprise over the next three years. In a bizarre twist of fate, investing in learning and development for IT upskilling could be the solution to mental health woes and the dire need to evolve business capabilities.
- HR leaders: can fill crucial roles and solve talent shortages by training and promoting from within.
- Employees: can combat stress by learning new skills, increasing their professional value, and pursuing opportunities for career advancement.
- Executives: can effectively leverage AI, cloud computing, data science, and analytics to future-proof the organization.
Tips For Keeping “IT” Low Stress
As talent directors and curriculum developers work together to create learning and development opportunities for employees, it’s imperative that they take current stress levels into consideration. Employee burnout is a serious problem that’s growing more prevalent by the day. If IT upskilling programs are to serve as a wellness tool, they must not push the needle past employees’ breaking point. Use these tips (and more) to keep IT upskilling low-stress:
- Make enrollment and participation simple, intuitive, and mobile.
- Ensure that corporate learners have access to timely support.
- Be clear about learning objectives and provide frequent progress updates.
- Make coursework relatable.
- Be flexible and realistic about timelines and workload.
- Incorporate plenty of social and experiential learning to keep employees engaged.
- Talk to learners, find out what’s working, and improve what isn’t.
For more advice on how to execute a world-class corporate learning experience, download our Essential IT Skills Training Program Planner.