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Sep 16, 2021

Record-high quit rates have business leaders freaking out about The Great Resignation. The phrase itself has become a trending tagline, just like “the war for talent,” “the skills shortage,” and other fear-mongering monikers we’ve heard over the years. 

What’s fueling this phenomenon, you might ask? The root cause is companies’ desire to replace employees rather than develop them. 

In other words, learning and development is falling short. But that’s nothing new — 50% of employees say they are dissatisfied with development at their organizations. 

Meanwhile, antiquated approaches and overpriced software solutions aren’t the magic bullets employers believe them to be. Companies may have gotten by with these in the past, but in today’s competitive hiring environment, they simply don’t cut it. As a result, employees are jumping ship. 

As they probably should. 

It’s time to do something about this and start investing in employees rather than software — especially because workers’ needs and expectations have changed in ways that emphasize soft skills and emotional IQ. That’s beyond the scope of software.

The Readily Apparent Needs of L&D

It’s important to keep in mind that different work models require different kinds of support. What a groundbreaking revelation, right? 

Sarcasm aside, many employers have taken for granted the shift in their workplace model since we all scrambled to make hybrid and remote work work. And they’ve been operating in that mode ever since. Providing support is great and might be well-meaning, but if it doesn’t fit the current stage and needs of your team, it means nothing.

To evolve L&D efforts for today’s changed workforces, the first step should be to conduct assessments and surveys that reveal what types of support employed currently need. Indeed, with 30% of workers stating that they never want to return to an office, we must learn how to accommodate L&D for remote workers by enabling personalized connections. This can range from ensuring regular touchpoints for managers to have career development conversations with their people to providing coaching for new parents returning to the workplace.

The Not-so-Obvious Needs of Your People

Employees might have been dispersed and in crisis mode over the past year, but the flip side of that disconnect resulted in strength and camaraderie for many. Enduring the trauma caused by the pandemic forged stronger bonds and increased resilience for many. It also forced us to be vulnerable and let co-workers into our lives and homes, whether we were ready for that or not. 

Ironically, that strength and camaraderie can result in complacency for leaders by creating false confidence that development and coaching aren’t needed. Putting learning and development on pause this way creates larger implications than managers realize. It causes dissatisfaction, burnout, lack of engagement, and — you guessed it — turnover. 

Leaders may think the new uptick in quit rates is attributed to competitive hiring, increase in employee benefits, and emphasis on employer brands, but let’s not forget it starts with dissatisfaction at the current job. Stopping dissatisfaction in its tracks with a focus on learning and development, and an overall investment in the employee’s success and wellbeing, will be much less costly in the long run when you think about recruiting and onboarding. 

Put otherwise, The Great Resignation is not about some big overturn of the workforce due to a desire to take advantage of a better salary or a pingpong table to lure folks into an office. It is about a desire to be invested in, developed, and supported to reach their full potential. 

Don’t Blow It

To all my L&D colleagues: Don’t blow it. This is a critical point for your organization. You can either spark a mass exodus or you can get to work on upskilling and developing your people. When presented with those two options, the response needed seems pretty clear to me. Here are four ways to get started:

1. Look at the Data 

Only 29% of organizations have clear L&D plans for their employees. They need guidance and information. They need data — which they already have. The key is to tap it. Data is key for setting strategy and benchmarks. Successful L&D efforts rely on facts, not feelings. Data will illuminate which gaps you need to fill with upskilling and development in your organization. It can also shed light on trends to help provide inclusive learning.

2. Kill the “Generationally Appropriate” Learning Approaches

You might’ve been fooled into thinking that generationally appropriate learning is a way to engage people. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Gen Zers don’t want TikTok for learning. We get enough of that nonsense outside of the workplace. Instead, they want personalized coaching and development to help them grow and level up. 

There is a big difference between personalized and persona learning. Persona learning gets gimmicky — fast. It offers a facade of inclusive, thoughtful learning through trite tactics. So instead, offer a wide selection of coaching and development opportunities to help employees truly find their learning style.

3. Ditch the Flashy Tech

Technology can be a copout for organizations. They invest in a shiny platform or solution that offers plenty of bells and whistles and guarantees to solve all of their problems. We all know that is never the way it plays out. I’m not saying technology doesn’t work; I’m just saying there has to be a human element combined with the tech. There is no Netflix for learning; we don’t just press a button and suddenly learn skills and feel invested in it. 

4. Abandon Shelfware Content

To paraphrase Elsa from Frozen: Let that stuff go! [Editor’s note: There was a different four-letter S-word originally.] Shelfware content is ineffective and cheap — and it shows. It lacks any sort of imagination or personalization. And you’re not fooling any of your employees into believing otherwise. Nor are you fooling them into using it. In no way does this tactic provide development in any sense of the word. You need development that meets people where they are today, not with an off-the-shelf course from 1995. 

People Will Move On, With or Without You

Your employees are asking for your help, regardless of whether they’ve explicitly stated it. Organizations are now in a critically short window of opportunity where they can opt to either offer learning and development that actually works or watch employees go elsewhere. 

So look at the data, talk to your people, figure out what they need, and deliver. In short, keep it simple, keep it personalized, and just don’t blow it.