5 Ways to Better Learning Outcomes with Wellness@Work™

Read the full article on the Institute for Learning Professionals website

To learn new tasks and to adapt to changing situations we need to be at our best. Unfortunately, many of us work in an environment that conflicts with our natural processes and this translates into workplace stress. The incremental stress and pressure that is applied not only impacts our ability to learn and solve problems, it also has a deleterious impact on our mental and physical health.

You only have to look at the incidence of stress with 72% of working Australians reporting that stress is having an impact on their physical heath[i]; and the cost of mental health conditions to Australian workplaces estimated at $11billion[ii].  It is obvious that something is not working in the system and the forecast presents real challenges for every business, large and small.

A focus on staff wellness as part of your learning and development plan is a circuit breaker to this challenge. By giving staff the tools and resources they need to be at their best, we facilitate an environment conducive to greater learning outcomes, staff development and organisational success.


While there are many potential components of a wellness program, from yoga to vaccinations, our background in organisational psychology precipitates a more neurological view.

A centre point is the Yerkes–Dodson law of performance and arousal [however we recommend substituting the term ‘arousal’ for ‘pressure’ in your workplace]. This shows that when pressure is low, we are safe but not particularly stimulated and as a result, we’re not at our best. However, when the ideal amount of pressure is applied, we reach our optimum performance level.  This is when we do our best thinking, produce our best output and when learn the most.

If additional pressure is then applied however, (as is the current norm) performance suffers. Our problem solving is compromised, our creativity and innovation vacates and we experience an elevated anxiety level.  This is not the ideal environment for learning and growth.

Recent lessons learned from neuroplasticity, neuro-leadership and wellness research identify the specific ways in which you can create the right environment for your staff and facilitate a shift in their cognitive capacity and thought patterns. The top 5 lessons are highlighted below:

LESSON 1    Understand the PFC [prefrontal cortex]

Your PFC sits in the frontal lobe and is responsible for your complex reasoning such as problem solving, memory, learning and decision making. These are all critical functions when developing skills and when adapting to new situations.

Unfortunately, a wide range of factors get in the way of our PFC on a daily basis. From the order in which we complete tasks and our failed attempts at multi- tasking, through to the specific triggers that create stress.  By understanding these factors and making practical changes to the way that we work we’re giving the PFC the clear air that it needs to work at its very best.

LESSON 2:   Manage limbic threats

Your limbic system is your emotional centre. Regardless of your personality, experience or capability we all encounter events that activate our limbic system every day. Learning how manage them effectively allows us to take back control and make considered judgements. David Rock has established the SCARF model to help us identify the 5 most common threats and ways to manage these.

LESSON 3:   Tune up your 6 cylinders of wellness™

Our own review of the research shows that those who actively manage these 6 cylinders of wellness experience lower stress levels, increased performance & productivity, greater mental alertness & agility, lower fatigue, more energy, higher self-esteem, better problem solving and greater overall life and career satisfaction.

These 6 cylinders are: Nutrition, Activity, Sleep, Social Connections, Time Out and Outlets. The evidence supporting these elements along with a guide and personal scorecard can be found at the 6 cylinders.

Our 2014 research study showed that by making small changes here, stress reduced by 8% and workload pressure reduced by 16% in only 6 weeks. Memory also increased by 5%, as did focus and concentration.

LESSON 4:   Train managers to promote wellness

We’ve found that specific ‘rah rah’ wellness messages from management do little to empower people or support their wellness profile. The most effective way to embed this into any team is by helping line managers to role model the right behaviours and train them to include wellness as part of their every day, business as usual staff discussions.

LESSON 5    Have fun with it

At its core, wellness at work is a positive message that facilitates life happiness as well as career success. There is a world of opportunity to use wellness as a way to engage teams in fun activities and share in positive news stories. Positive examples we’ve seen include group cooking classes, walking meetings and team yoga in the boardroom.

So if we agree that great learning outcomes are intrinsically connected to the cognitive health and capacity of our staff, then a focus on wellness@work is a way to boost the effectiveness of our learning initiatives while at the same time facilitating greater performance, productivity and stress tolerance across the business.

[i] Stress and Wellbeing in Australia (2014). Australian Psychological Society

[ii] Creating a mentally heathy workplace (PWC, Beyond Blue, National Mental Health Commission) 2014


Christopher Paterson is the managing director of ALCHEMY Career Management, a coaching firm which supports individuals to enhance their career and delivers corporate Wellness@Work™ programs for any organisation wanting to help staff to be at their best.