We all know employee development helps individuals and companies thrive. But learning at work isn’t always so straightforward.
Think about how an employee might feel when this reminder pops up:
“It’s time to once again complete your annual cybersecurity compliance course!”
If the company has set aside time to complete the course, it guarantees the training will happen. But the timing may be frustratingly inconvenient for people on tight deadlines.
On the other hand, allowing them to complete training on their own time would theoretically make them more engaged. But will they actually take time between urgent deadlines to do it?
How you approach setting aside time for learning affects your workplace learning culture. There are times when providing it is useful and times when it can undermine your efforts.
“But… I don’t have time for training”
Employees want learning and development opportunities. And managers want to see their team members grow their skills and bring new things to the table.
Clearly, training is important.
Yet time, or the lack of it, often means training takes a back seat to the rest of work. Especially when it comes to non-mandatory training.
This happens for lots of reasons. For instance:
- Time constraints. Employees are caught up in the daily demands of their roles. Without a designated time slot, they sacrifice learning for immediate job responsibilities.
- Lack of accountability. Without dedicated time, employees may not have the motivation to engage in learning activities.
- Focus on short-term goals. The urgency of day-to-day operations and immediate goals can overshadow the importance of investing time in learning at work.
- Perceived lack of support. If employees don’t see a genuine commitment from the company to their professional growth, they may feel unsupported. You give them the idea that learning is optional or non-essential.
Setting aside time for employee development is not just about creating a schedule. It’s about sending a clear signal that learning is a valued and integral part of the company’s values.
Slack, for example, recently took even more drastic measures to show that training is a top priority—normal business operations paused for a week so employees could focus on L&D.
Without a clear commitment to training, employees may struggle to pursue continuous learning and growth.
The potential downsides of setting aside time for learning at work
Allocating dedicated time for employee learning can be part of employee training best practices. But this approach comes with its own set of potential downsides.
If people need to put “training” in their calendars, is it truly a natural part of their job?
This approach can hinder the true meaning of training: learning and growing. Here’s how.
First, when you set specific times for learning, employees may find themselves torn between training obligations and their regular tasks. This division of attention can lead to a lack of focus during training.
The pressure to quickly complete the training and return to pressing tasks can also keep them from absorbing key concepts.
Second, assigned time can make training feel like a mandatory chore. Rather than a valuable opportunity for personal and professional growth. This perception can dampen enthusiasm and engagement.
The pressure to conform to a rigid schedule can overshadow the joy of discovering and mastering new skills.
Finally, real learning isn’t confined to formal training sessions. Employees also grow from spontaneous discussions. And from learning opportunities that happen in the course of doing their jobs.
Allocating specific time can limit these informal learning avenues.
When they see learning as a time-bound task, employees may struggle to connect the content to real-world scenarios. And the skills won’t get applied on the job, where they matter most.
Help employees see learning as a way to grow
You want employees to see learning as a dynamic, continuous process rather than a box to check. It should be a habit they embrace for personal and professional enrichment.
But forming habits can be a challenge. Especially when those habits involve activities people see as obligatory rather than enriching.
Take exercise, for instance. Many people drag themselves to the gym because they know they have to for physical health. Not necessarily because they relish the experience. Similarly, many see workplace training as a mandatory task rather than a gateway to personal and professional growth.
You want to encourage employees to view learning as an opportunity for continuous progress. That means you need to broaden their perspective.
Start by communicating the ways learning will improve their lives. For instance:
- Emphasize that workplace training is not just about meeting job requirements or chasing promotions. It is a strategic investment in employees’ ability to stay relevant in a changing market and industry.
- Help employees understand that learning keeps them engaged with their roles. Upskilling and reskilling enable them to succeed in their current job. And prepares them for the jobs they want in the future. Greater competence will bring them more fulfillment and satisfaction in their work.
- Share success stories of individuals who have used learning opportunities to achieve personal and professional growth. Real-life examples serve as powerful motivators. Showcase the benefits that can help people embrace a mindset of continuous learning.
When the narrative shifts from “I have to learn” to “I want to learn because it enriches my journey,” continuous learning becomes more natural and sustainable.
7 tips for creating a culture of continuous learning
The onus is on companies (and team leaders) to instill this mindset in their people. Yes, there are mandatory courses people need to complete at certain times. But there are also plenty of less official ways to grow employees’ skills, so it doesn’t feel forced.
Here are eight strategies to encourage learning at work:
1. Host weekly learning hours
Dedicate a specific time each week for employees to focus on learning. This could include attending webinars, taking online courses, or engaging in collaborative learning sessions.
They could also involve regular informal learning opportunities. These can be a casual setting over lunch or during designated “knowledge-sharing” hours. Give employees the chance to gather to share ideas, discuss industry trends, and explore new skills.
2. Support conferences and networking events
Support and sponsor employees to attend relevant conferences, workshops, or industry events. Exposure to external perspectives and expertise can be a powerful catalyst for skill growth.
These options not only expose them to new ideas. They also help them build a professional network.
3. Conduct skill-building workshops
Conduct unofficial training sessions, like in-house workshops focused on skills relevant to the company’s goals. They might focus on honing leadership skills, mastering new software, or improving communication.
Targeted workshops with clear performance benefits can motivate employees to take part on their own.
4. Instigate group projects and cross-team collaborations
Support group projects that require employees from different departments to collaborate.
This not only promotes teamwork. It also exposes people to diverse skills and perspectives, fostering organic skill growth.
5. Sponsor peer-to-peer mentorship and on-the-job training
Establish a peer-to-peer mentorship program. You can pair newer employees with more experienced colleagues who can show them the ropes. This is a more engaging learning opportunity. It gives employees real-world experience as they get guidance and insights.
On-the-job skill development could also involve cross-training, where employees spend some time in different roles. This provides hands-on experience and diversifies their skill set.
Building opportunities for learning into the natural workday helps people connect the learning to their work. So the new skills are more likely to have an impact on their job success.
6. Implement a flexible learning platform
Provide access to flexible learning platforms that allow employees to learn at their own pace. An easy-to-use learning management system (LMS) lets people take control of their own training and development.
Offer a variety of courses and resources so people can choose topics that align with their interests. Letting them have a hand in reaching their career goals can be a powerful motivation.
7. Support continuous learning budgets
Set aside budget employees can use for continuous learning. Empower them to invest in courses, workshops, or certifications that align with their professional development goals.
This shows them that you value their success, helping create a workplace learning culture that feels organic and supportive.
Learning to learn
The key to successful learning at work is to understand the objective of learning vs. training.
HR and L&D’s role is to enable training (by using intuitive tools, organizing interactive workshops, etc.). But your strategy should also include an ongoing effort to build a culture where people are curious and always willing to learn.
Training is a structured process for imparting a set of skills. But learning is a mindset. It is a curiosity that sparks innovation. A commitment to personal and professional growth.
Encourage employees to grow their skills without a sense of obligation to make learning an integral part of the work environment.
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