L&D Is Your Secret Weapon Against the Lure of Freelancing

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Jun 12, 2019

On the morning commute to the corporate office, chances are high that you might pass a co-working space filled with laptops, freelance and startup workers, and at least one overworked coffee machine. Maybe you’ve thought: I could launch a freelance business working from one of these hip co-working spaces!

Many salaried employees are asking themselves that question. Should I quit my job and become a freelancer? Set my own hours and projects? Walk away from corporate benefits and the security of a paycheck deposited every two weeks?

Like it or not, as HR professionals, we’re competing with a growing contingent workforce. The 2018 Freelancers Union “Freelancing in America” survey reports that 56.7 million people did some freelance work last year. (This is 35% of the national workforce!) In the UK, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed estimated that in 2016 there were 2 million British freelancers, an increase of 43% between 2008-2016. For many of these freelancers, a co-working space is the answer for office camaraderie and support as they run their businesses. The number of global co-working spaces is forecast to rise from 14,411 in 2017 to just over 30,000 in 2022.

You can provide them growth

How can organizations compete with the admittedly tantalizing lure of the freelance life? After all, freelancing offers schedule flexibility and the chance to selectively choose projects that inspire (or at least pay the bills).

One thing stopping your employees from choosing their own work hours and career path by freelancing is the pursuit of career growth. We can compete with the freelance life by giving workers control of their own learning and growth, so they can develop within the organization, not outside of it. It turns out, workers want to learn and grow, and most want to do it where they already spend the bulk of their time — at work.

The 2018 LinkedIn Learning report found that 94% of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. When you invest in employees’ learning and development, they are highly likely to improve their performance, which lifts the company results. And these highly trained and developed employees tend to be more loyal to their organizations.

It’s high time to give employees control of their own learning and growth. How do we do that? Here are three ways to help develop a culture of development that encourages people to stay on the job, adding value each day.

1. Craft a learning culture

First up, a learning culture starts with your organization’s leadership and commitment. We’ll assume you have this in place before moving on to the next level of development leadership: managers. Your managers should discuss a number of things with their teams in a one-on-one manner starting with the employee’s goals and how they plan to get there with carefully selected learning and development assets.

Research from Gallup shows that by zeroing in on an employee’s strengths, managers help nudge the elusive employee engagement meter. Managers can also use technology to document employee progress toward goals; use coaching sessions to offer feedback; help employees link their new skills to business objectives; and motivate employees to continuously update and refresh their skill sets.

2. Give employees time to learn

When do your employees take training courses or read up on new industry developments? If you don’t know, you may be guilty of willfully ducking a troubling fact of corporate life: Our plates are so full, if we add learning and development, a huge project will fall off, leading to repercussions. It’s easier sometimes to skip the video training, right?

Use scheduling blocks on your employees’ calendars to set aside precious time to learn. Make sure you model learning and development as well: Use your learning management system (LMS) to share relevant stories and videos, or message these items to your team. Treat learning as sacred because it is: L&D is one of the best ways you have to show employees you care about their career and development. Freelancers have no one looking over their shoulder and asking them if they need guidance. Be a beacon of learning: strive to show your workers you care about how they develop and grow as professionals.

3. Let employees drive

Today’s employees have access to limitless learning opportunities with flexible content that is created “just in time” and “just for them.” Allow employees some autonomy in choosing their content so the opportunities are employee driven – rather than handed down from above.

Have employees prepare a self-assessment where they identify their strengths and weaknesses and then encourage them to choose learning assets to address them. Are courses available from a third-party vendor with your LMS or does your L&D team offer what is needed in-house? Some learning may be off site or online – let your employees decide what is best for their learning needs.

In the war for talent, freelancing is coming on strong as a viable option for your current employees. Show them that your organization can offer ongoing, valuable learning and development that matters. When managers listen and encourage learning and growth, employees can take a new look at their “old” job and consider the pros and cons of staying. When you give people the opportunity, time and motivation to learn at work, stepping outside of that support structure looks less appealing. Let’s all offer learning and development for the win!