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How to retain staff using learning and development

We’ve all heard of ‘The Great Resignation’. Coined by Anthony Klotz, an associate professor at Texas A&M University, the phrase describes the surge in resignations after the initial urgency of the pandemic subsided. While the worst of the resignations may be over, Klotz has predicted that 23% of people will seek new jobs in 2022.

So what does this mean for organizations? Replacing people can be expensive, ranging from 50% to 250% of their salary. But the cost isn’t only financial. Saying goodbye to co-workers can result in a loss of valuable knowledge and skills, reduced team morale, and a dip in team productivity. People who are considering leaving a business often show signs of discontent and may be unhappy with aspects of their role, such as their professional growth, lack of recognition for their achievements, and general engagement with the work they’re doing. But, help is at hand in the form of Learning and Development. 

Workplace Learning and Development (L&D for short) varies between companies. It could be a team of L&D professionals implementing the latest training strategies, formal courses recommended by the HR team, or managers weaving learning opportunities into their team's workflows. Learning and development is anything from outdated eLearning and yearly first aid refresher courses, to effective blended learning and tailored coaching programs, plus everything in between.  

94% of people report that they would stay in an organization for longer if it invested in their learning, so it is worth getting it right. Creating a culture of learning at work has other benefits, too. A strong company learning culture can increase innovation by 92%, productivity by 52%, and could see 72% of employees more engaged with their work. That’s a lot of positive numbers. Yet, only 27% of people felt their workplace provides useful training. Thankfully, when it comes to retaining your best people, there are a few great places for L&D initiatives to start.

1. Treat onboarding as a learning journey

Good onboarding is treated as a process, not a one-off event. It isn’t just about reading through HR policies and learning where the coffee machine is — although both are certainly important — but about welcoming new people to the company and giving them the knowledge and confidence they need to thrive. A smooth, well-planned onboarding can immerse new team members in your company culture, help them settle in with their team, and get them up to speed in their new role. Of companies with reliable onboarding programs, 62% see faster time-to-productivity, and 54% report better employee engagement. However, only 12% of people feel their organization onboards well.  

Successful onboarding programs often have similar content, regardless of the roles they are for. They prioritize opportunities for new starters to become familiar with unfamiliar systems in a safe environment, introduce other teammates and key contacts within the business, and help them to establish a relationship with a buddy. 

Perhaps most importantly, onboarding can encourage everyone to take ownership of their own learning journey, particularly when learning resources are easily available and time for learning and reflection is considered part of the working week. At Quadmark, we have created a slide deck that introduces fun facts, skills, and preferences for every person on our team. This helps new teammates get to know us, and helps everyone know who to reach out to for support. 

2. Invest in manager training programs

When asked to describe the actions of good managers, employees often list providing clear objectives, giving detailed feedback, and offering straightforward task descriptions. Simple, right? Yet a UK-based study found that 49% of people have resigned from a job because of their line manager.  

The good news is that predictions suggest up to 65% of managerial tasks will be automated by 2025, leaving more time for managers to build better relationships with their teams. That’s why nurturing relationship-building, leadership, and management skills now is important for keeping people with a business for longer, especially when 1 in 4 managers say they’ve never received management training. 

In companies with a strong learning culture, leadership and management development isn’t a one-off, classroom-based event. It often takes the shape of a blended program, with practical face-to-face or virtual sessions to complement a wealth of online resources and tailored coaching sessions. The development journey often begins before a person becomes a manager. It can include a wide variety of content, from reflective exercises designed to build self-awareness and tips for structuring difficult conversations, to developing personal and team goal setting strategies, and learning the basics of data analysis. At Quadmark, we think it is particularly useful for managers to know how to support training initiatives to help the people on their team achieve their career goals. For L&D teams, existing managers, and HR professionals, this may feel like an overwhelming amount of work, however, when people feel empowered to learn during working hours, resources can be shared gradually, to create a searchable training library over time. 

3. Prioritize internal upskilling 

According to CIPD, 47% of employers have hard-to-fill vacancies, with more than 1 in 4 predicting that these vacancies will increase over the next year. Luckily, it’s true what they say: every cloud has a silver lining. Hertzberg’s Two-Factor theory tells us that our job satisfaction stems from several different motivators, including our sense of performance and achievement, our opportunities for advancement, and our personal growth. So, when these factors are lacking, people look to fulfill them elsewhere. 

The vacancies reported by CIPD give both companies and people who want to develop their skills the opportunity to harness the potential they already have. Almost 1 in 4 people leave a company for limited professional development reasons. Choosing to upskill existing team members can help to boost retention. What’s more, companies can save money doing it, with 79% of L&D professionals agreeing that it is less expensive to upskill current team members than hire new ones. 

Similar to developing management and leadership skills, upskilling employees doesn’t have to be through formal training programs or week-long seminars. A great place to start is to conduct a skills audit. By identifying what skills teams are missing, L&D can tailor resources and create learning opportunities for those gaps to be filled. YouTube videos, online forums, collaborating on projects, and buddying people up with in-house experts are great alternatives to classroom-based learning, providing people have time to dedicate to the learning process. 

A useful approach to upskilling is the ‘3Es’ formula. This formula posits that 70% of workplace learning should be through experience, 20% from exposure to new tasks or opportunities that stretch us, and 10% through education. Adults in the workplace learn best by doing and observing and most career experts would say that the biggest impact for an individual's development is finding things to do on the job. By carefully analyzing projects or special assignments, managers can create important development opportunities for their team members that invest in their strengths.

At Quadmark, we prioritize just-in-time learning, which means learners have access to the information they need, right when they need it. We also recommend organizations use nudges to remind people to learn. Nudges come in many forms, such as incentives, well-curated content, and timely reminders to complete specific tasks such as bookmarking pages. These strategies help companies to build a culture of continuous learning, and make upskilling a journey rather than a one-off event. 

4. Focus on long-term career development

One trend to emerge from the Great Resignation is flexible working, with 88% of knowledge workers prioritizing flexibility in their hours and location when looking for a new role. A preference for flexibility extends to long-term career development as well. Companies that excel at internal mobility keep people for longer — an average of 5.4 years, which is nearly twice as long as companies that don’t invest in it. 

Historically, career advancement has been seen as a linear pathway. We often relate progression to becoming managers and senior leaders before taking a well-earned seat at a table of directors. Today, career progression is more likely to be non-linear and zigzaggy. L&D and HR teams are there to provide the environment, opportunities, and support to help people shape their pathways — starting with the next project they are involved in, the next course they want to take, or the next role they have an interest in.

Succession planning or creating talent pools can be ways to do this, both for leadership and non-leadership pathways. Identifying people who perform well and targeting them for progression can help fill roles as the company expands, and people either retire or seek new opportunities elsewhere. However, these strategies can limit career progression to those who network well or fit very specific criteria. 

Creating a learning culture allows every employee to focus on their career development, whether they wish to move up the ladder, deepen their existing skills, or explore completely new roles. Building discussions about development into monthly or quarterly check-ins can help managers and L&D provide people with the resources they need to get the most out of their current role, and plan for their next one. In turn, this helps improve internal mobility, keeping people with the companies that invest in them for longer. 

At Quadmark, we have been reflecting on our own career development routes and have been doing a lot of work on improving them. We support individuals to build out their own career “lattice”. This approach means they have the chance to shape their career, in whichever direction, breadth or depth they want, in an environment where they can learn and build out a resume of skills to leverage. Learning budgets, a flexible working week, easy-to-access learning resources, and regular check-ins with team members have created a solid foundation for our employees to grow. 

So, while there is no silver bullet for employee retention, creating a learning culture with provisions for managers, new starters, and team members alike, as well as a focus on upskilling and career development will certainly help to improve it. For some extra onboarding inspiration, take a look at two of our insights pages: Onboarding matters: How to engage new starters before day one and 5 ways to create mistake-based learning environments.

Learn more about how to implement a learning culture in your company.

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