Workplace learning and development is crucial for longevity and loyalty among your employees. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that there are more ways than ever for someone to earn a living, so getting employees to commit to a position for longer is a much harder achievement.
There are several ways you as an employer can utilize learning and development strategies to retain your valuable employees. We’re going to take a look at some vital ways learning and development can help modern businesses with their employees, their workplace environments, and how all that improves your organization overall.
Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace
Amid the events many have experienced the last few years, employees crave ways to focus more on wellness, well-being, and mindfulness, not only for themselves but for their teams and families. Without it, employees may feel as though they can't or shouldn't stay with their employers for the long haul.
One report mentioned the rise in anxiety and mental health issues since the pandemic set in: "Nearly half of U.S. workers suffer from mental health issues since COVID-19 pandemic hit." See also Deloitte's Millennial Leadership Survey and young workers' emphasis on stress and work-life balance. These issues won't go away any-time soon. McKinsey analysts argue that the wellness market has grown to $1.5 trillion.
But well-being and mindfulness can be learned and incorporated into your business goals. This is where L&D comes in. L&D teams can create courses with the latest research and tips on handling stress, mental health, and mindfulness. Through learning solutions like social learning discussions and chats, employees can connect with each other as they work through similar issues. These development programs are key when acclimating your business strategy to adapt to the mental health of your workers.
One of the chapters from Deloitte's Millennial Leadership Survey states that nearly half of all millennials and Gen Zs say they're stressed most or all of the time. These figures can be even higher in women and people of color. For Gen Zs, half of their stress derives from their current job and career paths, illustrating how learning mindfulness techniques at work can have a dramatic effect on younger workers' mental health. By implementing mental health awareness into your workplace learning program, you’re also allowing for key business improvements like productivity and creating positive work environments.
Companies are taking notice. An entire section of McKinsey's insights are devoted to well-being in the workplace and analysis by The Starr Conspiracy shows a 502% increase in investment for employee well-being from 2019 to 2020.
The learning and development function, in collaboration with other roles serving the employee experience, is uniquely capable of addressing this need. By developing mindfulness practices and courses, learning and development strategies can be deployed to check in on employees, their mental health, and how they’re feeling about their individual workplace.
The last few years have seen a rise in employee tools to learn well-being and mindfulness, from journals to apps and beyond. Gallup's latest book is even called Wellbeing at Work. With such a dramatic increase in mental health and well-being initiatives like these, L&D can support them with mindfulness courses. By integrating these into learning opportunities and even mental safety training, we can utilize experience-based learning to create better workplace environments for everyone.
Consider springboarding off your organization's HR material regarding well-being as though it were the foundation of a course on the matter. Then supplement that material with podcasts, videos, and guided meditation tracks to further cement this skill in their day-to-day lives. When you combine these growth and developing tools with already-existing infrastructures (like HR) you’re utilizing systems that are already in place to improve employee engagement and their environment.
Workers Want to Know Their Work Contributes
Another aspect of well-being and resilience that impacts worker productivity is an emphasis on meaning. The more meaningful employees find their work, the more resilient they can become when facing setbacks. Many employees simply want to know that their job matters and their work is noticed. What are they working toward in their role? What is the company working toward in its mission? And how are the two connected?
A recent McKinsey article outlines how organizations can go from the "Great Attrition" to the "Great Attraction" by embracing some of these larger perspectives. For example, they give advice about building great cultures, avoiding transactional environments, and developing opportunities for employees to grow their careers. Many of these recommendations flow through how the day-to-day minutiae of employees' work days can fit into the bigger picture. By integrating these into professional development, employees are more likely to feel relevant and involved through their daily activities if they’re working towards something.
Using your LMS or LXP can be a great avenue for connecting the dots between an individual's role and the organizational mission.
Connect the Dots Between Roles and Goals
Most organizations educate their employees on the strategic goals and vision of the company, usually during onboarding. But it's often quickly forgotten, or it's so vague that the employee doesn't understand how their work fits into the bigger picture.
By building a course that emphasizes the strategic goals of the company but that is tailored to many job types, you can help your employees develop a career path and a sense of purpose for the long term. By ensuring that talent development doesn’t cease at the onset, employees are more likely to keep learning and advancing their skills instead of growing stagnant and complacent.
Caution: Don't be cheesy. Sometimes the connection between a low-level employee and how the company "makes the world a better place” can be tenuous at best. You can build trust with your people by showing them the practical connections of how their role serves the company’s larger purpose without making it seem like they’re saving the world, one application at a time.
Use L&D to Identify Struggles and Progress
Awareness is a crucial way to identify struggling employees and chart their progress as they adapt, improve, or even continue to struggle. An employee’s learning progress and talent improvements can be measured through learning and development strategies, like any other metric an employer uses.
However, even for the most seasoned L&D leaders, finding metrics to measure how much someone has "learned" is decidedly difficult. It requires maintenance, feedback, and communication that you have to be willing to devote to the employee and task at hand.
Traditionally, measuring progress boils down to metrics related to completion events and test scores. That is, you can easily track whether an employee has engaged with a particular section or course, and whether they retained knowledge through a quiz or test. Yet these metrics are crude, unable to provide the granularity L&D leaders need to accurately assess their people.
Adapt Content Based on Engagement
Not just performance, engagement should be a key metric you utilize to chart an employee’s progress and level of interaction with content. Use deduction from analytics to ask yourself some difficult questions like:
- Why does this particular course have a higher adoption rate than others?
- Why does this course have a 95% completion rate while this other one only has 35%?
Just like any good marketer, and following the relevance principle from earlier, it's crucial for L&D leaders to personalize content as much as possible based on engagement. While you may not be able to get a recommendation engine like you find in Netflix, you should be able to get a sense of how content is performing. The next step is to deduce what the performance means for your learners.
Further, innovative L&D teams find ways to reward learners based on the skills they're learning and how well they're learning them. This is doubly important depending on the strategic objectives of the organization. Like we mentioned earlier, if the company seeks to become more data-centric, perhaps more rewards should be offered for completing courses in data analysis, data visualization, or even business intelligence and machine learning programs. Like a properly functioning market, the "profit" employees make will increase their usage in those key areas.
In contrast, great L&D leaders find ways to support struggling learners. Suppose a course has a low completion rate, but through surveys and conversations on the discussion board, you see that this course is popular among employees. Perhaps the data tells you that the learning curve is too steep. So, the course may need extra introductory material at the beginning, extra coaching resources throughout, or even more rewards for certain completion events.
The point is that whether employees are doing well or doing poorly with your content, there is plenty that a platform with quality data can tell you about their progress and how to adapt. Learning and development strategies allow for monitoring, customization, and analytical tools to be sure your employees are progressing the way you want them to.
Personalized Content From Usage Scores
As mentioned, there are several key ways to personalize the content based on your data. You can find individual performance measures that allow you to focus on the engagement of any given learner to see when you can step in and help. There are also general trends to view the trajectory of your course engagement and progress from a comprehensive view. Finally, you can learn what content is the most and least engaging so your organization continually improves its learning outcomes.
Long-Term Career Development
When an employee feels valued and is allowed to cultivate their skills through a position, they are much more likely to stay. When you start treating a job as a place of stagnation, that’s when long-term career growth gets put on the back burner and complacency and despondency set in.
Younger workers like millennials want to grow their careers by quickly developing new skills and taking on more responsibility. By gaining supplemental education and certifications, sometimes even on their own dime, they are pursuing advanced skill development over a job. According to reports from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, they would rather bet on a career path than waste time at a dead-end job. This young segment of the overall workforce — the largest segment, by the way — is the most educated in modern history, they’re adept at digital skills, and they’re hungry to stand out.
This desire places the onus squarely on L&D’s shoulders. You’ve seen the headlines about the “Reskilling Revolution,” how reskilling and upskilling dominate CEOs’ priority lists, quickly moving L&D leaders to the front of the executive table. Now it’s time to rise up to the challenge to retain young, ambitious talent.
This doesn’t have to be a death knell for employers and businesses - simply by offering to help a little they can attract the attention of these young, ambitious workers. Not just through tuition reimbursement, student loan alleviation, or certifications - you can help by reminding them that you have access to skills and they can get paid to earn while they learn them.
L&D leaders can retain the best and the brightest by learning the demands of the workforce and how a learning and development workplace aligns with those demands.
Things have changed significantly in recent years, and one of the greatest changes has been employees’ expanded options to work wherever and however they want. The range is extreme: Young workers have moved away from bustling cities to Caribbean islands — these are the “digital nomads” giving tax professionals everywhere splitting headaches — and others want to move to quieter exurbs, while others simply want to be in the office less.
Deloitte noted in its latest Millennial Leadership Survey that 25% of millennials said they wanted to work in the office “a little to a lot less often.” In fact, millennials and Gen Zs rated flexibility as the most critical employee characteristic for successful businesses. This shift toward flexible arrangements to support so-called hybrid work has led to prominent organizations like Google to redesign their office buildings or just buy new ones.
Learning and development can highlight the ways flexibility can work for employees no matter what workplace they choose. Acquiring new skills is a huge benefit to employment, no matter if they learn from a cubicle or their home office.
Just because we’ve changed the ways and settings of workplace learning doesn’t mean our employees have stopped entirely. Learning platforms and online capabilities for learning need to be accessible, adaptive, and scalable for as many employees as you need. Employees expect learning platforms to be as nimble as their consumer products. People listen to podcasts while they do the dishes or weave through traffic. They watch videos on their phones while putting on makeup. They read articles and newsletters over a cup of morning coffee. Our tolerance for clunky platforms, slow load times, and repetitious training modules has sunk through the floor the more adept we become at handling the latest thing.
Modern LMSs and LXPs must adapt to these preferences and modalities. The most innovative platforms offer quick course creation tools with modules ready to embed multimedia content like articles, images, audio, and video.
Stay on the Cutting Edge with New Skills
Job skills and roles change more quickly than they ever have. Young workers deeply understand this. They’re often more well read on fast-moving topics than their bosses. Consider how much more the typical 20-something knows about advances in technology like blockchain or cryptocurrencies than their 50-year-old boss. Of course, experienced bosses often know much more about the business feasibility of these topics, and these technologies may be years away from becoming overly useful.
Younger workers have mastered the language, culture, and tools of burgeoning industries, and they often see further down the road to where advances can overlap with their skills and the needs of the business. For example, Andreesen Horowitz’s new media arm called Future posed a probing question to many young leaders across a wide array of industries: “How is expertise being redefined in the modern era?” Several emphasized the growing need to decentralize information so “experts” can arise from lower in the hierarchy. In other words, just because someone doesn’t have a particular title or experience doesn’t mean they don’t know a thing or two from which the rest of the organization could learn.
That’s why it’s important for learning platforms to embrace a tech-agnostic approach with their product development. By utilizing tech-agnostic platforms, your learning and development strategies can keep up with ever-changing technologies.
As fast as things change, the best many L&D leaders can do is to free up their learning platforms to embrace plugins, integrations, and embeddable content for any type of technology that your employees use.
For example, suppose your organization grows in its data-driven decision making, and some employees feel inspired to learn Python, one of the most popular machine learning languages. Can your current platform embed a recent YouTube video on the subject, underneath which is an embedded Jupyter notebook for trying out the code in real time? This way of thinking about how to build courses with mixed modalities will usher in the next generation of workers’ skills.
Reduce Departmental Silos for Collaboration
Following up on the previous point about decentralization, another important trend within innovative workplaces is a more open, cross-functional hierarchy. This matrixed approach allows workers to collaborate on projects as they arise, and then disband as the project wraps up.
Consider this kind of collaboration an internal talent workplace instead of conventional departments. This shift in your way of thinking can drastically approach what writers in the MIT Sloan Management Review have called work without jobs. Whatever you call it, it’s increasingly common: As the Harvard Business Review noted, “Collaborative work — time spent on email, IM, phone, and video calls — has risen 50% or more over the past decade to consume 85% or more of most people’s work weeks.”
The challenge is to optimize this collaborative atmosphere for everyone involved. After all, the more you emphasize collaboration, the more you risk wasting people’s time on tasks they don’t actively impact or participate in. More productive work is ideal while also accomplishing team-based learning. The HBR article provides ideas for resolving the former, but the latter remains an obstacle for many learning leaders. To begin, L&D leaders should prioritize learning built for teams instead of trying to adapt learning platforms for individuals to a team-based setting.
The modern learning platform helps to foster community around its learning modules. Learning should be more like discussion than lectures. That’s why it’s more common to see social learning experiences like contextual conversations, private and public communities, and real-time chat further enhance the total learning experience.
Consider how to redesign the learning path to include more social learning to help discover new content as well as help to make the learning stick with peer discussions.
Use L&D to Balance Learning with Career Cultivation
We often talk about a career as if it is something you attain, not something you’re currently working on. Every job, position, and even task is a milestone in your career, not a way to build up to an eventual career.
Young professionals have a very black and white view on careers - what contributes to it and what doesn’t. If they decide that their position within your company, business, or under your tutelage is not contributing to their career growth, they’ll bolt.
Human beings are like plants — they want to grow. They crave it. They want to get over the learning curve, master a subject, and then move on and conquer something new. If you don’t offer employees this trajectory, they’ll go somewhere that will.
Give Employees Room to Fail, Learn, and Grow
You can see this dynamic play out in many areas. In hedge fund manager Ray Dalio’s popular book and media initiative Principles, he often talks about this growth trajectory. The logo for the brand represents it: An arrow spiraling its way up and to the right. First, an employee moves toward mastering their subject. They encounter difficulty and often fail. From this failure, they recover, learn, and grow towards the next level. This cycle happens again and again, and it’s part of the natural evolution of humankind.
Similarly, a popular, peer-reviewed area of study in psychology, Self-determination Theory, posits that human beings need three things to be successful: Autonomy, relatedness, and mastery.
Autonomy: We need the latitude to direct ourselves in the direction we see fit. Without it, we become resentful and stagnant.
Relatedness: We need others to help us along in our journey, to encourage us, provide feedback, and support our development. This is why social learning is so important for L&D initiatives.
Mastery: We need the competence that comes with training and skills to give us a sense of accomplishment. Without it, we feel useless, meaningless, and complacent.
Provide Feedback and Social Learning
Too often, training initiatives are one-and-done: You host an event, webinar, or workshop, and then employees are sent off into the unknown to wander alone in the world to figure it out for themselves.
This disassociation can come across as a lack of accountability and responsibility in that employee’s growth. Clarification, check ins, and feedback are instrumental in providing effective teachings.
New technologies and new perspectives offer L&D teams the opportunity to check in with employees. As they’re applying their training in the real world, they’re sure to come across questions they couldn’t have imagined and had no way of articulating. This helps reinforce the content and make it stick. Peers and managers can also help. By discussing what they learned on an ongoing basis, training and development becomes much more effective over time.
Relevance is Key
One of the biggest criticisms against higher education is that it lacks relevance to the real world. You’ve likely had professors who spent their whole lives in academia rather than a participant - and it shows. Or you may have had professors who were leaders in their field and developed important principles — but they applied that to a subject 20 or 30 years ago, not today.
Similarly, many training courses associated with tech skills, media, and everyday tools don’t apply anymore, even though the training occurred only two years ago. Things change fast. Employees also receive webinars or video training recorded three, five, or 10 years ago that show their age in the first five seconds, causing employees to tune out immediately.
To stay relevant, it’s crucial that learning content be created and distributed quickly. Quick course creation tools allow learning specialists to grab the latest article, YouTube video, or podcast, and embed them directly into the learning module at speed. When you show an employee outdated content, they will likely roll their eyes and wonder why you’re wasting their time. After all, what could a decades old video teach them about their job now?
With quick course creation tools and embeddable content from innovative learning platforms, the world is your oyster. Almost anything you read, watch, or hear online can be immediately used for the next course.
This also gives a new perspective on the world around you. For example, pay attention to what your grown kids or friends may be talking about and learning, especially if it’s a developing subject matter or technology. Chances are, the very media from which they’re being taught can be added to the employee curriculum.
L&D Takeaways For Your Employee’s Benefit - and Yours
Today’s workforce is more ambitious, driven, and articulate than they’ve ever been. They’ve been trained from a young age to ask for what they want and not stop until they get it. These are amazing skills in workers, but it can be difficult to adjust the paradigm from workers pitching themselves to you to you pitching yourselves to workers.
The truth of the matter is that there doesn’t need to be a total shift in your perspective for this paradigm to work for you. What’s ultimately best for your employees will benefit your organization just as much as it does them.
Learning and development strategies are helpful, adaptive ways you can emphasize your employee’s mental health, talent progression, and career paths to demonstrate to them how their career goals contribute to their work at your organization.
Consider the advantages of these L&D scenarios:
An employee that actively participates in a workplace that prioritizes their mental health will feel appreciated. They’re less likely to be stressed and this will, ideally, increase their productivity knowing that their work is being utilized by their organization.
An employee whose progress is tracked not just with metrics, but with feedback and engagement is sure to improve while their skills are deployed, developed, and improved.
An employee with access to flexibility, training, and adaptive platforms for continual learning can succeed while also achieving their professional goals for growth.
An employee’s growth doesn’t have to be on hold when they have a job. The right employer can help advance all of their workers with the right tools, setting them up for success within their organization.
Learning and development is a shift but it doesn’t have to be a total upheaval. You’re not sacrificing your business’s priorities for your employee’s priorities - you’re aligning them.
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