The Link Between Upskilling and Mental Health

Upskilling and mental health - banner
For too many workers, work takes priority over mental wellbeing
October 24, 2022
Future of Work
Did you know that only 18% of employees take a sick day when feeling mentally unwell or burnt out? What's more, only 30% of workers use all of their allocated holidays. These are just two of the headline stats emerging from The Adecco Group’s Global Workplace of the Future report which surveyed 34,200 workers across 25 countries.
This raises many questions, but it also establishes one fact very clearly: for too many workers, work takes priority over mental wellbeing. For these people, work is a constant, ever-pressing stress that prevents them from taking the time they need to unwind.

Whether this arises from an unsupportive company culture, unforgiving management or understaffing, the common denominator is a serious lack of empathy. What if upskilling managers and leaders on empathy in the workplace was a step towards better mental health at work?

What the data says

The Global Workforce of the Future report shows a quarter of all workers believe their mental health has worsened over the past year - and half fear burnout. This anxiety claws across all generations and genders, although women are marginally more worried.
Almost 40% of workers say they have suffered from burnout and 25% have been forced to take a career break because of it, while less than half feel that their company is adequately addressing mental health issues.

Here’s another statistic in the mental health cocktail - in a recent Pearson Global Learners survey of 5,000 workers across 5 countries, 32% reported their employers were offering no mental health support or initiatives at work. A sobering thought.

What worries workers?

Mental health issues aren’t necessarily rooted in the workplace but will often manifest there. The explosion in fuel and food prices and high inflation will inevitably lead to worries about income and job security - especially among Gen Z and Millennials. Wider and more existential issues such as the climate crisis and war are also bound to impact mental health and not everyone can compartmentalise this when they are at work. But mental health can be directly impacted by what happens during work hours at three main flashpoints.

1. Workload

The above statistics on poor holiday uptake underline our findings on overwork. For many, the load is too heavy.

58% of non-office workers and 71% of desk workers think their mental and physical wellbeing would improve through working fewer hours. Most (68% non-office and 71% office) believe this would also make them more productive. A surprising 32% of workers are now on a 4-day week.

Flexible working hours mean a lot to workers. Failing to negotiate them is the second reason for desk workers to quit. And the fifth reason for non-desk workers. The value placed on flexible working is especially high among younger generations and managers of all ages.

2. Money

Despite highly prizing flexible work options, only 30% of non-desk workers would take a pay hit to reduce their hours - and over half are considering a second job. Non-desk managers have even admitted taking cash-in-hand work to tackle the rising cost of living.

Conversely, back at the desk, 54% of office workers are already working fewer hours or considering it, even if it means a pay cut.

3. Career progression and training

We’re not training enough. The report uncovered that 2 in 10 desk workers, and 3 in 10 non-desk workers have never had a career progression conversation in their current job.
In fact 3 in 10 non-desk workers having never even had technical training from their company, while 1 in 3 haven’t had soft skills training.

This at a time when nearly 69% of college graduates believe AI could take their job or render it irrelevant in a few years - and almost 4 in 10 workers are worried that they don’t have the right skills to use relevant technology or that they don’t have access to it.

Learning, development and career progression go hand-in-hand and transmit a sense of being invested in and valued. For example, The Adecco Group is building an 'always on' learning culture where employees are empowered to continuously and intentionally learn and develop to build skills for today and tomorrow. To provide access to learning anytime, anywhere, the TAG U Digital Campus allows all Adecco Group employees to plug into learning resources from multiple libraries, like LinkedIn Learning, Harvard ManageMentor, Ted@Work and many more. They can also share valuable content with others or follow a subject matter expert on a topic of interest.

Cash or contentment?

While workers choose salary as their number one reason to quit a job, it’s oddly not even in the top five reasons for staying. Employees cite happiness, stability, good work-life balance, colleagues and flexibility (in that order) as what keeps them loyal to their current employer.

So how do team leaders create a work environment - in-office, deployed and remote - which will keep good staff happily in harness?

We can route straight back to flashpoint #3 for the answer - learning and development opportunities.

Managers are increasingly aware of the value of empathy but that doesn’t mean they can all pivot directly into it. A manager’s lot is not an easy one. Juggling the needs of the team with the demands of the boss is complicated enough and it’s easy to understand why facilitating something as 'simple' as happiness won’t necessarily come naturally.

Happiness, also, is hard to lay out in a spreadsheet or pin to a growth chart. So, how can managers upskill into an area which is so intangible and yet so crucial?

Taking time to talk

People can be pretty good at masking their mental health problems. In a recent study on 'pleasanteeism' it emerged that half of the responders felt they should put on a brave face at work, even though a quarter were struggling.

Managers can be proactive by setting up a system which prompts an employee to share. This can take the form of one-to-one meetings and a standard list of questions designed to trigger an open discussion. Commonly this occurs during appraisals but appraisals can be infrequent and even token. Any manager serious about building their empathy skills will want to diarise meetings regularly and frequently.

Compassionate leaders are proven to foster more trust and respect for their teams, which increases their ability to have success. Lighter touch check-ins such as regularly slated coffee and chat sessions between manager and employee can make space for discussion beyond day-to-day tasks and targets.

Looking Inward

Many assume empathy is about being there when someone is going through a rough patch. But empathy involves more than just offering comfort. It's about understanding and embracing others while remaining self-aware.

Not every manager is gifted with empathy. Some have to work at it and 360 degree appraisals can be a useful tool to understand where they need to up their game.


A sense of impotency in the way things are run can lead to serious staff disengagement. A good manager will seek ideas and innovation, as well as constructive criticism. Employees need to know they are being heard and involved in decision making.

An anonymous ideas box which asks for ‘better strategies to motivate staff’ may well give insights for an upskilling manager to work on.


Much as you would for a valued client, make a customised plan for each member of staff, detailing what you want them to achieve and what they want you to help them with. Keep mutual notes on what’s going on in their lives and how work can fit comfortably with it.


It’s crucial to let your people know when they’re doing well. Tell them. Often.


After hours get-togethers and team building days may not be innovative - but they work.


Learning and development for employees should be part of the customised plan, mutually agreed.

And for the upskilling manager? There are many wellbeing and workplace empathy resources on the TAG U Digital Campus as well as curated learning plans. Courses will boost confidence and understanding and the sum total of better empathy and happiness planning can transform an entire workforce.

Final Takeaways

The Adecco Group's Global Workforce of the Future report reveals some startling numbers, but at the end of the day empathy is not something you can resolve through metrics and statistics. It is something that has to be felt and experienced. Mental health is similar in that sense - numbers only show a superficial story. Only by educating ourselves and engaging with those in need of empathy can we truly learn how to implement empathy into the workplace. Nothing worth having comes easy, but this is absolutely worth having.