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Are Learning and Development Useful Retention Tools?

11 April 2023

How do you solve a problem like…employee retention? Could learning and development be the answer?

Employee retention has never been a bigger challenge for UK businesses. According to Glassdoor, retaining employees is more difficult now than in 2019 for over half of employers and this difficulty shows no sign of letting up. Chris Gray, Director of Manpower, has indicated that, in his view, ‘[t]alent retention is going to be a battle for most employers this year’.

And it’s not like employers can afford to lose staff at the present time, given the wide-spread talent shortage the UK is currently experiencing. A recent survey carried out by Cool Company found that ‘talent shortage’ was one of the most significant challenges for employers in 2022 and that 2023 looks set to be no different. The demand for talent is vastly outstripping supply leading to reduced productivity, declining performance and stagnant growth.

With this in mind, if you’re an employer struggling to recruit suitably qualified talent to your multiple open vacancies, the last thing you’re going to want to see is existing talent strolling out the door. This is particularly the case when we acknowledge that the longer an employee works with a company, the more productive they become and the more intensely their exit will be felt.

So, at a time when record vacancies mean job seekers have the upper hand when it comes to choosing where to work and can job-hop at will until they find a package they’re happy with, perhaps we should start by considering what employees really want.

Well, we know it’s not all about the ‘money, money, money’. Yes, a healthy salary is important, practically and from a wellbeing perspective, but it doesn’t go to the heart of employee satisfaction. Instead, employees want to see clear growth opportunities and to know their organisation provides options for upskilling which will help them grow over the long-term. According to The Work Institute’s Annual Retention Report 2022, ‘career issues’ are the most cited reason for employees leaving a job, while employees who feel they have access to the L&D they need are 21% more engaged than those who don’t (Culture Amp).

Investing in employee L&D is a great way for an employer to demonstrate how highly it values its staff. Employees who feel they’re learning and developing and that their employer is givjng them the tools and resources they need to do so will feel supported from a human perspective, rather than simply being treated as a cog in a wider machine. And in practice, providing development support requires an employer to genuinely know their staff as individuals which, in turn, assists with building stronger relationships, engendering greater employee loyalty and even identifying future leaders as part of wider succession planning.

Providing employees with engaging opportunities to learn new skills and expand their knowledge also ensures motivation doesn’t decline over-time, even when promotions and pay rises aren’t forthcoming. While you might not be able to promote every employee who deserves it there and then, investing in their broader development can ensure they remain engaged in their work and committed to their employer, despite their upward progression being a touch limited. While pay rises and bonuses can provide short term motivation boosts, engaging an employee’s intrinsic motivation by sparking their academic or creative interest through a well-thought out programme of varied training and development activities will ensure sustainable engagement and enthusiasm.

And this is all, of course, in addition to the primary benefit of investing in staff development, which is a more skilled and able workforce, capable of handling complex tasks and satisfying demands from key stakeholders. While an under-skilled workforce presents significant risks for a business, including costly mistakes and reputational repercussions, a high-skilled team will be more effective and efficient, more confident and comfortable and generally happier in and more dedicated to their work.

But how to do this in practice? Well, it’s worth setting the tone from the word go, so consider in the first instance the structure and content of your onboarding programme. There’s a tendency to wait until an employee is settled into their new role before addressing professional and, certainly, personal development, but connecting them with learning opportunities right out of the gate and setting up a development plan as part of the induction process can actually help ensure they feel empowered to prioritise learning from the word ‘go’ and understand the importance of L&D to your organisational culture from the kick-off.

Thereafter, learning needs to be embedded in all aspects of your organisation, even the small things. For example, can you embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve, rather than problems resulting in punishment? Similarly, can you create a feedback cycle which sees managers providing daily, useful feedback to their staff and soliciting feedback on their own performance without ego, from a place of learning? Finally, can you train your managers to adopt a growth mindset, appreciating the need to allow staff flexibility, not only in when and where they work, but also in how they approach and experiment with well-established tasks?

At a more organisational level, while one-to-ones should be a staple part of an organisation’s development programme, you might also want to consider whether they can be supplemented by career conversations, during which employees are afforded dedicated time with their manager to discuss their next steps, whether upwards, via promotion or sideways, via job swaps. Managers should also be incentivised to hold such conversations and provide practical career development support, such as linking employees up with potential mentors, helping them expand their network by introducing them to new contacts or providing them with opportunities to experiment. Rewarding managers who do this successfully (and in turn retain staff within your organisation, even if not within their team) will encourage them to devote time and attention to it and to prioritise it alongside their other KPIs.

Learning and development have always been important to staff happiness and workplace health, but they now look set to determine length of service and loyalty. According to Linkedin, a staggering 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. So, if you don’t want your employees to ‘go to grow’, then perhaps it’s time to start investing a little more in your learning and development programme.

Choosing to do so is a wise decision. If you need any further help, we’ve written about engaging learners to enhance engagement and can help you plan a training programme that is right for your employees. To find out more, contact us today.


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