Employee well-being was front of mind for organizations long before the pandemic. Now, after 11 months of remote working and public health anxiety, it’s now become business critical for companies trying to drive recovery with mentally exhausted teams.
More than just the right thing to do, investing in wellness is beneficial for business. Unhappy workplaces lead to increased sickness absence, reduced productivity and higher staff turnover. The Integrated Benefits Institute estimates this is costing U.S. employers $575 billion and 1.5 million days of lost productivity every year.
While many organizations are already investing considerable sums in schemes to improve well-being, helping your people build new skills is very rarely considered part of the strategy. However, it should be.
Things like exercise breaks and meditation certainly have an important role to play but, fundamentally, if a person doesn’t believe in their abilities to carry out their day-to-day tasks, it’s going to impact morale and job performance.
In support of this, recent research shows that when workers are not confident in their skills, they feel more stressed, less productive, and their mental health suffers. Nearly half (46%) say they would leave their employer if they don’t see a commitment to upskilling. And to be clear, nearly half of your employees believe their core skills will be obsolete in the next five years.
This is reinforced in a study by Myers-Briggs. When participants were asked to rate the effectiveness of different activities in enhancing their well-being, two of the top five were “undertaking work where I learn something new” and “undertaking challenging work that adds to my skills and knowledge.”
So, if you are considering making upskilling part of your employee well-being strategy for 2021, the below tips can help you get started.
TAKE A COLLABORATIVE APPROACH
People are most motivated when they are learning something they enjoy. So rather than prescribing what skills people in your organization should learn, open it up to them. What skills would they be most keen to learn? What would make them fulfilled and happy at work? This allows both workers and businesses to become invested in the learning experience, which makes it much more likely to be successful. This is also a great opportunity for managers to get involved in helping advise on skills that might be tied to business goals, as well.
MAKE LEARNING RELEVANT
If workers are going to learn a new skill, they need to feel it will help them in their current role and can be applied immediately. This is the best way to ensure retained learning. And even better if the skill can also help them progress in their career. With this in mind, you should guide employees to identify skills that will not only help them in their current role but those that are most valued by the business. Gathering skills data at an organizational level can help you understand which skills you already have, and where the skills gaps are. If workers have the right skills to do their job effectively, this inspires confidence and can have a huge impact on their overall mindset.
Learning should also have longevity. There’s nothing more dispiriting than spending several hours learning a new skill, only for it to become out of date in a matter of months. Encourage people to think about skills that will help their career in the long-term. These could be transferable human skills like leadership or resilience, or skills that are more specific to their industry or job function.
Not recognizing the effort workers put into learning can be just as damaging to well-being as learning skills that quickly become obsolete. For employees to continue to invest their time, energy and expertise, it’s important they know that the company is dedicated to growing their skills and invested in their careers.
Pay level is an obvious form of recognition and reward, but career mobility is also indicates employee value. Offering employees the chance to work on a stretch assignment in another team, a short-term project, or even within a second departments gives them a chance to flex their new skills and create a new challenge.
I’ve seen this take shape in my professional experience. When one major U.S. bank challenged its employees, the result was happier and more confident workers, as well as the bank retaining the essential skills it needed to compete in future. The bank introduced a bootcamp to hone skills in a select group of workers, who were then directed to take on high-demand projects to immediately put into practice the skills they had learned. Almost instantly, workers could see the outcome of the learning they had invested time in.
These results point to the importance of reframing how we think about work. A career does not just have to be moving from one full-time job to another, but can be a mosaic of different projects and assignments that come together as a wealth of experiences.
NORMALIZE GROWTH IN YOUR CULTURE
Ongoing learning is essential to creating a culture of personal growth. This doesn’t just mean formal courses that workers can attend. Podcasts, articles, and online videos all count as learning experiences. Make sure this is valued in the same way as more structured sessions by giving workers a way to track the skills they are learning.
The Ebbinghaus “forgetting curve” shows that we forget 90% of what we learn within one month of learning it—unless it is regularly reinforced through work. Look for ways workers can retain learning by practicing new skills, seek stretch assignments or volunteer for activities that complement their learning. Another option is to simply reinforce skills on an ongoing basis, through continuous learning.
Upskilling won’t be the only factor in employee well-being this year, but by changing how we recognize workers’ skills and learning, we can ensure they continue to feel valued this year and beyond it.
Sarah Danzl is the skills expert at Degreed, a workforce upskilling platform. She has been actively involved in the learning space for 13 years, leading marketing and communications efforts in both corporate and startup capacities.