The “Great Resignation” is here.
According to the U.S. labor department, 4 million people quit their jobs in April alone. That’s a record.
Americans are leaving in droves searching for better pay, better working conditions, or a better work-life balance. This departure is putting employers on the hot seat. Job creators need to start paying attention to how engaged their employees are at work. If they don’t, they’ll end up with an empty seat.
One of the teams with the most power to make a difference? The learning and development (L&D) team. As the focal point for employee learning, professional development, and training, the L&D team plays a pivotal role in keeping workers engaged, happy, and motivated.
We’ll outline five critical ways that L&D professionals help employee retention by improving employee engagement.
5 ways learning and development drives employee engagement
When you hear ‘L&D,’ do you automatically think of mandatory compliance training or mass upskilling schemes? Learning and development teams indeed work on these projects—but they also do so much more.
Here are five main ways L&D teams help companies keep employees motivated and engaged:
- Fosters continuous learning in the flow of work.
- Turns subject-matter experts into content creators.
- Empowers leaders with manager training.
- Provides professional development opportunities.
- Defines an effective performance appraisal system.
Let’s take a closer look at how learning and development drive each of these benefits.
1. Continuous learning in the flow of work
Many L&D teams are embracing the idea of ‘learning in the flow of work,’ or microlearning. Instead of dedicating specific blocks of time for a long training session, employees can pick up new skills or information in small chunks throughout the workday, often in contexts directly related to their work.
Not only is this a time-saver, but it gives employees the feeling that they’re always learning. When these learning experiences are oriented towards their growth or professional development, they can instill a real sense of purpose and motivation that keeps employees sticking around.
2. Turning subject-matter experts into content creators
If your L&D team uses a Collaborative Learning approach, that means they’re turning subject-matter experts into content creators. For instance, Mary from Marketing could create a course on-brand tone of voice, Sam from Sales could create a workshop on professional email etiquette, Anton from Accounting on how to submit invoices properly, Henry from HR a course on the connections between productivity and sleep.
By leveraging this kind of institutional knowledge, L&D teams make sure content consumed by employees is 100% relevant and up to date. But even better is the fact that they’re engaging employees as content creators and facilitators. It’s gratifying to share your expertise with your colleagues. Studies have shown that when students and teachers actively interact with learning material in a discussion or Q&A, both parties retain the information better.
3. Empowering excellent leaders with manager training
According to Gallup's State of the American Manager report, one in two employees has left a job to get away from a lousy manager. Nurturing effective leadership is crucial to retaining happy employees—and it’s the L&D team that’s responsible for offering manager and leadership training that gets the job done.
Just take the example of Tower Loan. Their L&D team invests heavily in manager training (7-12 months long) since their approach is to hire candidates for leadership positions that have high potential but not necessarily much experience. Their Director of L&D, Adam Oppegaard, explains that “Retention is a big issue for us [...] This isn’t just an L&D issue, but if we offer the right training, we can create incentives for people to stay with us. So I’m always watching our retention figures to measure the impact of our training programs.”
Bottom line? Employees want to work under competent management, and L&D teams are crucial in forging these leaders.
4. Providing professional development opportunities
Employees need growth to stay engaged long-term with their work.
SurveyMonkey found that “Roughly 86% of employees say that job training is important to them—and nearly three out of every four (74%) are willing to learn things outside of work hours to improve their job performance.” And for employees that aren’t getting what they need? According to a new survey by staffing firm Robert Half, they’ll file a few resumes and go elsewhere, seeing as 64% of workers favor job-hopping. That’s up 22% from a similar survey four years ago.
Building growth opportunities into the employee journey help companies attract and keep top talent. And your L&D team is the one that makes it happen.
5. Defining an effective performance appraisal system
Employees are engaged most when they believe their performance is being assessed fairly. L&D can play a huge role in determining what fair and helpful performance assessment look like at a company.
The L&D Team at Zapier, for instance, undertook an extensive overhaul of their performance appraisal system, talking to 60 Zapier employees to understand what high-performance looked like on their team and how they could encourage it even more throughout the company. That kind of detail-oriented analysis and actionable application of the insights gathered was all thanks to L&D efforts.
When to start focusing on employee engagement
When it comes to starting an employee engagement initiative, the time is always right.
To handle what kind of learning and training experiences employees might want, L&D teams can encourage employees to express their own learning needs instead of waiting for top management to define them in their place.
This already makes workers feel more valued and empowered. Depending on their set-up, declaring learning needs could be ongoing throughout the year or during set inventory times, say once a quarter. Performance appraisal models should evolve with a company’s growth and be updated to align with new goals or challenges.
In terms of professional development opportunities, there should be regular intervals and time set aside for employees to express their interests, with clear guidelines for internal mobility. Consistent one-on-ones are an excellent opportunity to have these discussions.
Finally, it’s always the right time to turn subject-matter experts into content creators, and a collaborative learning approach can help make that a reality. In that same vein, manager training shouldn’t be ad hoc but systematized and given early in a new leader’s tenure, so they’re able to reap the benefits as soon as possible.
Who makes up the learning and development team?
Learning and Development teams come in many shapes and sizes.
If your company is quite advanced, you may have a C-suite level role called a Chief Learning Officer. A CLO is “a senior-level executive who oversees all learning and employee development programs within an organization. They create learning strategies, oversee their execution, and ensure that all educational programs align with larger company goals.”
The idea is that this person can align learning initiatives with larger, company-wide goals and liaise with other top management leaders to secure budget and buy-in.
Suppose you’re working at a smaller or less mature organization. In that case, you may have a few, or even just one, learning manager, instructional designer, training manager, or a combination of these roles. The L&D team often sits within the broader Human Resources (HR) team, but some companies are pioneering new setups; Drift, for instance, has moved their L&D team within their marketing department.
How learning and development can make their biggest impact?
No matter who makes up your L&D team or where it sits in the organizational chart, this team needs to view the entire organization, and C-suite buy-in to make real change. Investing in a learning management system is a minimum, preferably based on collaborative learning, so that employees can participate not just as learners but as content creators. Investing in a Chief Learning Officer (CLO) will give a clear mission statement for all learning activities throughout the company and align them closely with broader company goals.