I’ve spent my career on learning: It’s in my job title. I’ve studied the psychology of learning, and I’ve been involved in helping everyone from executives to middle schoolers get better at it. I’ve learned a lot myself in that time — including that learning is consistently pushed last on the priority list.
My sixth graders were always looking for shortcuts around it, and in the workplace it’s avoided in favor of more tangible deliverables — even despite the positive impact it can have. Deloitte research suggests companies with strong learning cultures are 92% more likely to innovate, not to mention 52% more productive. What’s more, giving employees learning opportunities helps promote long-term retention. A 2018 LinkedIn Jobs Report found 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if that company invested in their career development. Yet 6-in-10 managers say getting employees to make time is the biggest challenge for talent development.
Even at my company, where a bulk of our business is centered around helping other companies implement learning, we’re not perfect at ensuring our own employees make time for personal development. In fact, this year we’ve decided to challenge ourselves to increase the amount of time employees spend learning. And by implementing the following strategies, your company can too.
Stop the excuses
Often, the reason learning falls by the wayside comes down to one excuse: “I’m too busy.”
When big projects come up or your team is overwhelmed with tasks, it’s easy to tell employees to prioritize the work and skip the 30-minute course on something like problem solving or communication. But in my experience, you can almost always find the time for learning — just think about the times when the CEO gives a presentation, everyone is magically available for an hour.
One way to get time back? Take a closer look at meetings. Meetings have increased in number and in length since the 1960s, according to the Harvard Business Review, and over 70% of executives surveyed in their study agreed most meetings are unproductive and inefficient. In my experience, most one-hour meetings can be done in 15 to 20 minutes. If your meeting doesn’t have a specific action or outcome, maybe you don’t need to have it in the first place. And not everyone has to be in every meeting; review the meeting goals to ensure your employees are only in the meeting if they need to be.
Make development important to management
Even outside of busy periods at work, it can be challenging to get employees to invest time in learning. I think this stems from the decades-old perception that if an employee has free time, it’s an indication they’re not working hard enough. And that’s still ingrained in some company cultures today: One of my colleagues came from an environment where pursuing learning instead of billable client work meant that she wasn’t proving her value to the company.
The only way to start to change this cultural habit is to start to change expectations — and that’s a directive that needs to come from senior leadership. If managers are being measured by their ability to complete projects, there is no incentive for them to help to develop their employees. But if one of the company’s core management competencies is for managers to be developers of people, managers are much more likely to prioritize learning.
When the colleague I mentioned started at Cornerstone, she told me she struggled to adjust to the expectation that she make time for learning in her schedule. The person who helped her make the switch? Her manager.
Start seeing the ROI
Managers worried about time lost to learning might actually find that learning actually improves their employees’ work. According to LinkedIn research, employees who engage in learning regularly are 47% less likely to be stressed, 23% more ready to take on additional responsibilities, and 21% more likely to feel confident and happy. Learning can also increase productivity: Research suggests a break from your traditional job can promote creative thinking and productivity.
Moreover, employee retention is tied closely to learning. According to research from the Institute for the Future, 42% of millennials report they are likely to leave a company because they are not learning enough. Meanwhile, the same study revealed 52% of employers consistently struggle to fill open positions — at a cost of 150% of the salary of a mid-level employee. Learning can help reduce employee churn, and even address hiring challenges across the organization.
Finally, a learning culture can future-proof your organization as things like automation and the rise of the gig economy continue to change the workforce. According to one study, 90% of global managers and executives expect their work to be disrupted in the near future, but only 44% say their organizations are adequately prepared for it.
Rather than looking elsewhere for the talent to fill those gaps as needs arise, companies have the opportunity to start developing their current workforce today by building a learning culture. By dedicating more time for employees to learn and grow their skills, companies will maintain a workforce that is on the cutting edge of whatever change comes next in the world of work.