Employees who are engaged at work are more likely to be productive, deliver top-quality work, bring new ideas and innovations into the mix, and take ownership of your company’s brand mission. A good employee and an engaged employee are one and the same. Unfortunately, many businesses suffer from a lack of engagement among their employees, which leads to sub-par work, low morale in the workplace, and high employee turnover rates.
How can you cultivate workers who are happier, more valuable, and more likely to stick around for the long haul? The answer can be found in professional training and development.
Learning and engagement are inseparable, and not just in the professional world. Think back to your school days. When did you feel most engaged in the classroom? For most of us, engagement came naturally because we were learning and grasping things that captured our attention. Teachers often describe “lightbulb moments”—times at which a student finally grasps a difficult concept—as the reason that they are passionate about educating. The same principles apply to engagement in your workplace.
The Importance of Creating a Dynamic Experience in the Workplace
Education doesn’t end when we finish our schooling and start looking for jobs. While employment is in part about making a living, it’s also about building a life. The life journeys we take are characterized by direction, momentum, and purpose. The employers who get the most out of their workforce are the ones who offer dynamic employee experiences instead of static ones.
The most common reasons people give when they leave their jobs reveal just how important this kind of dynamic employment experience is. “I’ve outgrown it,” some people say when quitting one job to pursue another. “I’m looking for a new challenge,” others say. “I’ve gotten as much out of this job as I can,” is another common complaint. Some employees will explain their reason for leaving more bluntly: “I’m just bored,” they say. In each of these cases, the underlying problem that is pushing your employees to new professional opportunities is lack of engagement and growth.
Using Professional Development Opportunities to Drive Employee Growth
Employers need to create a more dynamic work experience for their employees, and it begins with HR. The overarching role of human resources in an organization is twofold: first, HR departments are responsible for helping to maximize the potential of employees so that they can deliver as much value as possible to the company. Second, HR departments need to create employee experiences that retain top talent instead of sending stars running toward new opportunities. Otherwise, any money invested in the development and growth of an employee goes largely unrecouped. Professional training and development are some of the best ways to start pursuing these goals.
Incorporating robust training and development practices into your company is valuable for several reasons. First, investing in employees and helping them learn new skills and knowledge shows your personnel that you value them. A business that invests in its employees sends the message that those employees are part of the family and will continue to be part of the family for the foreseeable future. When employees feel valued on this level, they are more likely to invest in making the business better, instead of just treating it as the source for their paychecks.
Second, training and development help combat the feeling among employees that they have gotten everything they can get out of a job. Getting promoted is not the only way to grow and advance as part of a company. Learning new skills, adding to one’s professional repertoire, taking on new responsibilities, and hopefully moving toward a point at which advancement is a strong possibility are all factors that make the average employee feel like they are progressing and growing instead of standing still. This feeling of velocity drives continued engagement at work.
Content and engaged employees aren’t all your business will get by investing in ongoing professional development. You will also get workers with a more well-rounded repertoire of skills, which can advance your bottom line directly. This benefit—paired with engagement, retention, and overall employee morale—explains why learning is such an important component of any workplace.
Staying Agile by Building New Capabilities within Your Workplace
Learning doesn’t just drive engagement by satisfying employees’ desire for growth and evolution. By investing in the education and development of your business team, you can create a more agile workforce, one capable of incorporating new capabilities into the business and helping the company evolve and change along the way.
This kind of business-wide evolution is a crucial value of the employee training and development process. It’s also one of the benefits that gets most frequently overlooked. When it comes to approving budgets and spending for employee training, executives and shareholders want to hear about ROI. They want to know how paying to teach an employee a new skill is going to benefit their bottom line. One of the biggest challenges HR managers face is trying to calculate and justify the ROI of training programs to higher-ups. It can be difficult to foresee what kind of tangible value a new skill or capability could bring to a business.
There are the traditional arguments in favor of employee development, arguments we’ve already discussed in this article: that training employees leads to higher levels of engagement, greater productivity, better work ethic, and other advantages. There are also cases in which training your workforce can bring entirely new capabilities into the business, allowing the company to evolve and keep pace with changes in the industry and business world.
Take technology as an example. Technology is constantly shifting, with new devices, apps, software, and other innovations breaking through daily. Some of these innovations have the potential to transform your business right now. You can bet that there are tools, systems, and techniques out there right now that you aren’t using that could allow you to make more money, serve your customers more effectively, and deliver other major bottom-line benefits. Many businesses simply aren’t agile enough to adopt new technologies quickly—because they don’t know about them, and because they don’t have strong policies in place to train staff on the latest breakthroughs.
The biggest technologies eventually become so big that companies can’t ignore them. At that point, either executives will start to see the value of training employees on innovations, or they quickly put hiring processes into action to recruit people who are already trained in innovations. The issue is that by the time a tech innovation is big enough to spur this kind of response, it’s usually gotten so big that every company is jumping onboard. In other words, you’re adopting that technology to keep up with the competition, not to give your business a competitive edge like you could have done through earlier adoption.
Also read: 11 Technology Trends in LMS
By putting a strong emphasis on training and development, your business can stay agile—transforming to surpass as well as keep pace with the competition, and constantly integrating new skills and capabilities into the workforce. Best of all, putting emphasis on learning will continue to drive employee engagement in huge ways. Employees love the feeling like they are really making a difference in their jobs. Giving your personnel the chance to drive major company growth and evolution through the acquisition of new skills is one of the best ways possible to keep engagement and overall employee satisfaction sky high.
The Millennial Question
Another reason that learning and engagement are so important for today’s businesses is they are becoming a “must have” instead of a “nice to have.” Increasingly, employees are expecting the companies they work for to invest in their ongoing education and development. This shift is generational more than anything else. According to a study done by the Manpower Group, 93% of Millennials “see ongoing skills development as an important part of their future careers.” The same study reports that four of every five Millennials consider skill development a “top factor” when looking for a job.
93% of Millennials see ongoing skills development as an important part of their future careers.
What’s the reason for this shift? The Manpower Group theorizes that Millennials view careers a bit differently than any prior generation. For past generations, the goal has typically been to find a great job and stick with it for decades, climbing the ladder and getting more responsibilities—and more money—over time. Millennials are more focused on the journey. They want to experience a lot of different things and are more likely to use jobs as stepping stones than as permanent arrangements. For the average millennial, a career isn’t a means to an end or a way to make money until retirement time rolls around. Rather, it’s a part of a journey of growth and self-improvement, with a varied array of stories and accomplishments to enjoy along the way.
This changing conception of what constitutes a “career” poses a potential hurdle for employers. How will companies be able to groom leaders or create stability in their workforces if most of their workers are treating their jobs as stepping stones to something bigger? That concern is becoming more and more pressing as Millennials take up an increasingly prominent presence in the workforce.
This millennial career viewpoint could ultimately prove helpful to HR departments that have traditionally struggled to launch effective workplace training and development programs. Yes, Millennials tend to view jobs as temporary arrangements rather than as permanent placements. However, the top reason that Millennials are more likely to hop from one job to the next is a desire for personal growth—something that employers actually can offer.
Looking at the Manpower Group study, it becomes clear that learning and engagement are becoming inseparable as Millennials continue to take up their spots in the workforce. Employee retention is going to become a bigger challenge going forward. The only way that employers are going to be able to fight turnover is to give millennial workers exactly what they want: growth, development, and self-improvement. Otherwise, millennial professionals are going to keep hopping jobs in pursuit of growth—and, frankly, you can’t blame them.
Is there any way that employers can ensure retention? Probably not. As the idea of a career becomes more fluid and dynamic, there probably won’t be much that businesses can do to hold onto employees forever. However, by investing in employee learning and development, you can provide millennial workers the value they are seeking from their career opportunities. The businesses that can provide the most value in this department will be the ones who see the highest levels of engagement and the longest employment tenures for millennial employees. The companies that aren’t putting an emphasis on employee education and development already are going to learn quickly that they have to adapt to survive.
There are plenty of reasons why businesses are hesitant to invest in employee learning. Courses, certification programs, and other training opportunities can be expensive, and it’s not always easy to discern an immediate and measurable ROI. However, when it comes to driving engagement in the workplace, retaining employees, ensuring company-wide agility, and appeasing virtually an entire generation of young professionals, it’s clear that learning in the workplace is as vital as any other type of job benefit that your business offers.
Don’t ignore this important point of focus—especially when it is poised to become even more important in the coming years. CEOs and shareholders might not be eager to sign off on employee development programs right away. By using some of the arguments and evidence presented in this article, you might just be able to change their minds.