It often feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Between work and home life, and not to mention, continued global uncertainty, many of us have felt scattered and frazzled lately. While leaders look for ways to support employees during these times, I’ve spent a lot of time asking if it’s possible to prioritise professional development to ensure employees not only survive, but have the opportunity to actually thrive? I think it is.
Employee development isn’t just a “nice to have” — it’s a proven business driver that can’t be ignored. In today’s environment, how can organisations innovate to make learning more accessible to employees who now have less time and more to do? Consider these six approaches.
1. Audit existing training practices
An important first step is to evaluate what you’re currently asking your employees to do in terms of training or learning. How much training, how often, how long? Is the training relevant to the individual? You’ll want to be very sensitive to ensuring that the training or learning experience is worth employees’ time, since that’s in short supply these days. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense for everyone on the team to attend that lengthy webinar. Try and think about what you cut out of your existing training schedule. Additionally, is there a way to reduce workload to make more time for training? Be empathetic to people’s very real and unique situations. Also, ask employees what they want to learn in order to personalise training and make it more relevant and timely for each individual.
2. Remove the roadblocks to learning
When it’s difficult to find time for learning, one way to fit it in is to incorporate it into the flow of work. In other words, think about the ways that employees can readily access training and learning resources as needed while working (e.g., on an online learning platform). This flips learning on its head and makes it directly relevant to getting the job done in the moment, versus feeling like a waste of time or an additional task.
3. Put it on the calendar
While learning in the flow of work might be the ideal scenario, for some organisations, it may also be beneficial to schedule regular time specifically for individual learning and development. This approach helps signal that learning is part of the company culture and that it’s not only acceptable, but recommended, to take a break from daily tasks to do it.
For example, at Udemy, we have a monthly DEAL Hour, or “drop everything and learn” hour where we pause our daily tasks to take an online course. The DEAL Hour helps employees recognise that it’s part of their job to learn and that learning is part of work. Like learning in the flow of work, DEAL works well when employees have easy access to learning content and can make this time relevant and productive for themselves.
4. Signal the value of learning
Employees often feel that their organisation doesn’t trust them. With layoffs and reorgs due to Covid-19, this feeling may be exacerbated now, making employees feel like they can’t take a “break” to learn. Learning shouldn’t be considered to be a break, but rather as an essential part of any career. “Signal value” can go a long way in creating a learning culture. For my team, I expect and try to model that learning is part of the job. As a business leader, you can lead by example by regularly discussing the learning you’re doing and by asking others to share what they’ve learned lately.
5. Think like a marketer
We all have Zoom fatigue by now. As such, employees are far less interested in sitting through another webinar. To really engage with employees, put on your marketing hat and figure out how to get more people to buy into training and learning. Are there more creative ways to build awareness (like giveaways or campaigns) and keep people engaged (even if they’re simultaneously cooking dinner)? It’s also important to clearly highlight the value and benefits of training and possibly incentivise employees to do it — before, during and after learning/training — to keep them interested.
6. Embrace flexibility and creativity
With so many challenges competing for business leaders’ attention, it would be easy to give up on learning and training now. Rather than ignoring the development needs and opportunities of your organisation, I encourage leaders to take a more creative and flexible approach to making space for training and learning. Also, be sure to take time to acknowledge and recognise the effort that employees are putting in to continue to develop themselves and their careers despite today's very real challenges.