The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating impacts on mental health around the world. Social distancing (at the height of the pandemic), adjusting to remote work and economic uncertainty has caused many to people struggle with mental health more than ever before. The crisis is so severe that the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the pandemic triggered a 25% increase in anxiety and depression rates worldwide.

Isolation is a growing factor impairing employee mental health — and the need for social connection extends into the workplace. This can have a major impact on work productivity. Poor mental health can lead to cognitive impairments, including difficulty concentrating, memory lapses and poor decision making. These issues can then lead to lower productivity, slower task completion times and more errors in the workplace, not to mention the negative impact on employees’ well-being.

L&D’s Role in Employee Mental Health

Learning and development (L&D) departments play an important role in supporting their employees’ mental health and should take the steps to improve employee wellness and well-being. Companies should implement comprehensive mental health policies that provide guidance on how to recognize, prevent and respond to signs of distress within their workforce. These policies can include guidelines for early detection of mental illness, as well as best practices for managing employee mental health.

One way in which L&D leaders can support employees’ mental health is to create an open dialogue around mental health. L&D should encourage employees to speak openly about their struggles with mental health without fear of judgment or repercussions from their employers. L&D can create safe spaces for employees to discuss their issues. This can help create an inclusive culture where everyone feels comfortable discussing their issues openly so that appropriate help can be provided if necessary.

Companies that take this approach find that their employees are more productive and engaged in their role. While this is a very human issue, there are several ways technology can assist L&D departments in supporting their workforce and improve overall wellness. Let’s take a look at three tools L&D leaders can use to support employee mental health in the workplace.

  1. Mobile learning.

Smartphone apps, like mindfulness and meditation apps, can be used as an effective tool to help employees better manage stress and reduce anxiety. Many of these apps have enterprise plans that allow all employees to access content. Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots in apps can also be deployed to provide timely support to employees struggling with mental health challenges. Employees can ask questions of AI-powered chatbots for ideas on how to manage stress and burnout.

  1. Virtual reality.

Emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and immersive learning can help L&D leaders and employers identify and help those battling with mental health. Having these open and honest conversations can be tricky. VR simulation is a scalable training option that can equip people managers with the skills and experience they need to lead these conversations with their employees. Managers should help their teams feel comfortable discussing their issues without fear of judgment or repercussions, so they can open up and seek help. Tools that encourage discussing mental health can reduce stigma and encourage more people to seek help when needed.

  1. AI authoring tools.

AI authoring tools are somewhat new, and we still can’t see all the ways AI will disrupt training. But today you can use an AI-assisted program to speed the process of content creation for mental health topics and keep training relevant. A training course on mental health that was developed in 2018 would not feel as relevant today, where many of the issues driving the mental health crisis are related to current events. By accelerating course development with AI, learning designers can create new content quickly and easily.

Looking Ahead

Organizations must work to support and prioritize employee wellness and mental health. Managers and L&D leaders can encourage their employees to stay and connect with the company by taking an interest and investing in their well-being.