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How learning and development supports mentally healthy workplaces

One such business investing in its mental health awareness training is 2019 PRTA recipient, BAE Systems. What started as a one-day awareness-raising workshop for a leadership team, was so successful that the training was offered to all UK business units and is now a formal component to all apprentice and graduate training.

Each year 1 in 4 individuals are likely to experience a mental health problem with one-sixth of Great Britain’s working age population experiencing symptoms associated with mental ill health annually (Office of National Statistics).

Mental health issues have a significant impact on both employees and employers and are a major cause of long-term absence from the workplace with ONS research showing that 12.7% of all sickness absence days can be attributed to mental health conditions. Obviously this has a huge knock on effect costing UK businesses billions of pounds each year. But the ripple effect is even greater than that.

Creating a safe space

Organisations have a duty of care to look after the well-being of their staff and it’s clear that this also makes good financial sense. Happy and valued staff will want to keep working for your business and the impact of employees seeing the workplace as a ‘safe space’ can be fundamental in creating a positive and sustainable working environment. But raising awareness and implementing training around staff mental health and well-being can feel overwhelming for organisations to put into practice as there is no one-size fits all approach.

Businesses are unique and with that comes a unique culture so what works for one organisation may not be the right approach for another. What does seem to be consistent across organisations is that the most important element of creating a supportive and mentally healthy place to work starts with its people, with organisations focusing on understanding their staff’s needs, attitudes and behaviours in order to develop the right approach.

Chief Assessor of the Princess Royal Training Awards Paul Robertson, has seen a real focus on the type of training applicants are using to apply for an Award, with many organisations taking a more holistic view of employee well-being. Businesses are investing in initiatives designed to be of benefit to individuals, both within the workplace and outside of it. Describing it as ‘preventative learning and development’, Robertson is seeing organisations start to offer mental health training as a way to break the taboo and open up the conversation.

Celebrating excellence and so much more

City & Guilds Group created the Princess Royal Training Awards (PRTAs) in partnership with HRH The Princess Royal, five years ago. The PRTAs are designed to celebrate businesses working to develop the skills needed for commercial success, and ultimately striving to create a more productive workforce.

Whatever the industry or area of training, from leadership to technical training to well-being initiatives, the awards programme provides organisations with a framework to measure and demonstrate their success, making it easier to show senior leadership the real ROI of training programmes – whether that’s improved sales, talent pipelines or happier, healthier, and more engaged staff.

In 2019, at the PRTA’s fourth annual awards ceremony, 48 training programmes (from 44 businesses) were presented with Princess Royal Training Awards by HRH Princess Anne.

From global firms such as IBM and GSK, to local businesses with less than 50 employees such as Juice Nursery, the list of recipients from around the UK includes public and private businesses of all sizes across all sectors that are delivering training schemes with exceptional quality and impact.

Developing awareness from the top down

One such business investing in its mental health awareness training is 2019 PRTA recipient, BAE Systems. What started as a one-day awareness-raising workshop for a leadership team, was so successful that the training was offered to all UK business units and is now a formal component to all apprentice and graduate training.

One outcome for the business is that the training has provided all levels of employees with the understanding and confidence to speak publicly about mental health and engage with their teams using a genuine human, supportive approach.

Alongside raising awareness and providing safeguarding and support, BAE Systems feels that its employees are taking ownership of the issue and this is positively impacting on its culture. Over 200 employees are now Mental Health First Aiders, competent to address issues they encounter and further embedding support and understanding across the business and almost 4,500 employees have attended the one-day awareness programme.

Taking action

Another organisation to receive a PRTA in 2019 for its innovative approach to Mental Health First Aid Training was Walker Construction. This Kent-based SME places great importance on the safety, well-being and continued development of its employees and decided to take action to address research which showed that low-skilled construction workers were a high-risk group for committing suicide and other mental health related issues.

The business initiated a three-pronged approach focusing on a free, confidential counselling service for employees and families, a mental health ‘tool box’ talk which can be delivered on active construction sites and offering more in-depth Mental Health First Aid training.

By taking the training directly to employees on-site, the business could reach the maximum amount of staff without disrupting work schedules. And by having the counselling service in place simultaneously, the business had a robust resource in place for anyone who needed additional support following the toolbox talks.

Walker Construction’s aim was to increase awareness of mental health and reduce stigma whilst also giving the Mental Health First Aid training the same importance that the business gives to physical First Aid training. By doing this and also aligning to its core values, the business has created a strategy for improvement that is delivering results.

As Managing Director Phil Webb confirms: “It is very easy for organisations to make promises about their commitment to health and safety without meaningful action, and we are proud to say that we have taken action. The training not only provides support and valuable skills, it makes us more attractive to clients and prospective employees.”

More than an Award

In times of political and economic uncertainty, investing in your people and creating a loyal, skilled workforce could make all the difference to the longevity and success of your organisation. Integral to this is understanding and prioritising employees’ mental health and well-being and the development of a supportive and sustainable culture.

City & Guilds believes that training and developing employees is critical to the success of businesses and the PRTAs are a prestigious way of recognising employees whilst celebrating their achievements.

The 2020 Princess Royal Training Awards, delivered by the City & Guilds Group, are now open for entries until 31 March 2020. For more information, visit

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