Employee development is essential in a new workplace

Irwin van Stavel, managing executive and senior partner at LRMG

Employees who feel their employers aren’t investing in their continuous professional development are far more likely to think about leaving to pursue better opportunities than those who are given this opportunity. So, why are some companies dragging their feet and refusing to invest enough in their employee development programmes?  According to Irwin van Stavel, managing executive and senior partner at performance agency LRMG, in some cases it comes down to an insecurity most managers don’t want to acknowledge: the fear an employee may become overqualified, outgrow his job, and leave the company to pursue a better position elsewhere before a promotion is available.

“This fear isn’t completely baseless either. Young high achievers job hop frequently to earn a higher salary, and on average, leave their jobs after only 28 months. Research also shows that Generation Ys will have 10 different jobs by the age of 38!”

Yet withholding professional development from employees is not the right response to this fear; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, he stressed.

“Fact is employees seek professional development to achieve successful careers, and when companies don’t invest in this development, employees leave.”

The true cost of disengaged employees

The real cost of insufficient continuous professional development equates to unmotivated and disengaged employees. Citing Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, van Stavel points out that 70 per cent of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’. That’s a scary thought.

“While statistics for the South African market are not readily available at this point, having dealt with numerous organisations of varying in size around the country, we believe this statistic is even worse in South Africa,” says Guy Martin, founder and managing director of BluprintsT. The impact of disengagement on productivity can also be devastating for a business. When employees are less engaged in their work, they require more supervision, make more mistakes, and cost their companies more money.

“On the other hand, employees who know their employers not only value them, but also invest in their future, become more engaged and motivated at work,” said van Stavel.

Engaged employees see higher productivity, higher profitability, and higher customer satisfaction ratings. They also make fewer mistakes. Perhaps surprising to some is that engagement levels play a bigger role in employee satisfaction than corporate perks like vacation days and flexi time.

“Most employees feel satisfied and engaged when they’re encouraged and equipped to contribute to the company’s overarching mission. This mission must, of course, be well-communicated, focused around a greater purpose, and go beyond the shareholders’ value. Employees want to feel like strategic partners. When they are given the necessary educational tools to participate, they become more motivated to help the organisation work toward its goals – and will stay longer at the company.”

Make your training worthwhile

However employee training is often viewed as tedious, dull, and time-consuming – not exactly a recipe for employee satisfaction. So, how do you develop a training programme that your employees will enjoy and actually find valuable? Van Stavel points out that the key to effective employee development lies in thinking beyond traditional training, putting the infrastructure for learning in place, rewarding ongoing education, and getting out of the way so employees can teach themselves.

1. Understanding Employees’ learning styles People learn in different ways: There are visual learners, auditory learners, or kinaesthetic (tactile) learners. Others learn best on their own or in small groups with other people. For example an employee may decide to read training materials on his smartphone riding the Gautrain, instead of on his computer at work. “The more flexibility offered to your employees for their training, the better,” van Stavel said.

2. Play to employees’ strengths instead of improving weaknesses According to Gallup, building employees’ strengths is a far more effective approach than trying to improve their weaknesses. “The benefits of the strength-based approach range from better relationships with managers and increased productivity at work to decreased stress levels, fewer sick days, and fewer instances of developing a chronic disease.”

3. Don’t waste their time During a learning “intervention”, people sometimes feel the opportunity cost for learning is greater than the benefit of the lesson learned. Van Stavel suggested staying mindful of this as a manager. “Don’t create a five-hour sales meeting that could occur in three 30-minute increments, or require people to read a full book on a topic when they could grasp the concepts from brief summaries.”

4. Let them take charge of learning Employees are also adults who are fully capable of teaching themselves what they are motivated to learn as long as they have access to the right resources and experts. A good leader has a teacher mentality and motivates his team to learn. After providing the right learning assets and opportunities (on an ongoing basis), these leaders step back, and they allow the employees to build their own development plans, apply their lessons, and collaborate with others, he points out.

“The fastest way to capture the hearts and minds of employees is to make them feel valued and, thus, motivated in their jobs. While it may seem counterintuitive to train employees to advance beyond their current roles, investing in employee development will increase their loyalty to the company, help them stay longer, and allow the employee to build bench strength at the same time. As a result, you’ll have a highly engaged team of productive employees working to advance the company as a whole,” van Stavel concluded.

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