Let’s be honest: Training is stressful. Learning something new can be exciting, but having to retain new information in addition to managing a steady workload can be a lot. One-off training events can disrupt learners’ workflows, increasing their stress levels when they return to work. High stress can distract learners from retaining and applying new skills as they instead concentrate on playing catch up to their workload.

Though essential to both the organization and the learner, training should not come at the expense of employees’ mental well-being. Instead, training should be embedded in learners’ day-to-day roles. In other words, learners should not have to pause their workday to learn something new: it should already be integrated into their workflow. That way, they can learn new skills — without the stress.

Let’s examine some ways on-the-job training can not only eliminate stress but boost employees’ motivation and get them excited about learning.

What’s On-the-Job Training?

On-the-job training allows employees to gain firsthand experience performing tasks or processes related to their role under the supervision of a manager, coach or mentor. It’s a form of experiential learning that provides a hands-on learning experience within the employee’s work environment.

With on-the-job training, employees can learn in the flow of work and eliminate the stress of having to stop everything they are doing to travel to a separate facility for a daylong, training event. Though it may seem trivial, just having to stop work alone to go train can add stress to an employee’s psyche. According to research by BambooHR, 76% of employees recognize the benefits of on-the-job training and would prefer this as a training method.

As learning leaders, it is important to ensure that learners are getting the best experience possible from their training. If they aren’t, then the training simply becomes another waste of time and expense — adding more stress to the organization’s return on investment (ROI).

Boost Learning Retention

Learners will get the most out of training when it is motivating and engaging. The difference between stress and engagement is all brain based. Positive motivation impacts the brain by guiding nerve impulses through the memory areas and the release of neurotransmitters that increase attention. This means that learners are more likely to retain information when they are motivated to learn.

Unhealthy stress levels can not only interfere with motivation, but also affect how much information learners can process and retain. Stress can inhibit the hippocampus, the part of your brain that handles memory, thus impairing memory retrieval and transfer. Managing employees’ stress levels is vital to ensure their health and safety, and any changes in their behavior due to learning stickiness.

Libby Mullen-Eaves, senior director of people operations and culture at BizLibrary, explains, when we’re highly stressed, we’re in fight or flight mode. This can make the brain more apt to reject the training and shutdown. “No new learning or very good retention can happen when we’re not in that healthy space and growth mindset,” Mullen-Eaves shares.

“If an employee’s stress level is high, they aren’t thinking about how they can retain training and learning lessons,” says Matt Fairhurst, chief executive officer of Skedulo, a productivity platform for deskless workers. “[Instead] they’re thinking about when these lessons will be over.”

Blocking off long hours for one-off training every month, quarter or year not only can disrupt an employee’s workflow, but can negatively impact the way they view training and how much new information they remember. Since one important measurements to training is its effectiveness, lack of learning transfer can hinder business performance.

“Generally, when someone engages their employees in one-off training or traditional classroom training, you know right away that’s going to be a huge block of time because chances are it’s for five hours twice a year. Therefore, it just becomes an event and not an anticipated part of the day,” Mullen-Eaves explains. “Whereas, if we look at four to nine minutes of learning a day — it’s something that is easily incorporated into a schedule and much more effective when done [consistently] over time, instead of one shot just to check the box.”

So not only can on-the-job training help relieve stress, but it can also help increase learning retention and the impact made from training. This means a more productive and engaged workforce, and a higher ROI.

Reframe Mindset to Training

On-the-job training — from self-paced learning to coaching and mentoring — is embedded in an employee’s routine, making it a part of their day-to-day. When learning is a habitual, everyday process, a learner is more likely to retain new information. It all goes back to the old saying: Practice makes perfect.

On-the-job training can be delivered in short bursts, increasing the chances of learning being more memorable, as well as engaging. Mullen-Eaves shares how at BizLibrary, they use their own learning platform that provides small chunks of bite-sized learning tailored to an employee’s current job role and a role they want to aspire to.

To assess skills gaps and areas of improvements, before starting the virtual program, both the manager and employee rate the employee’s competencies. Based on the results, the manager can prescribe the required learning. With learning paths tailored to everyone in the organization’s current role, it allows employees to take charge of their own learning.

When an employee feels like the training is not only for the organization but for their own personal and professional development, they are more likely to be attuned to it.

“It has to be relevant,” Mullen-Eaves says. Employees should “know that the learning and development is not just checking boxes for the organization, but that they are gaining something critical for their career growth.”

Learning leaders can reframe their employees’ mindsets by making training tailored and customized to their own learning paths with short bursts of microlearning. This can shape the way they naturally respond to learning something new. Instead of feeling dread when it comes to training, employees can feel excited and empowered because they know that the learning is not only conveniently embedded into their schedule, but that it’s relevant to their own success.

Moving Forward

Unhealthy stress levels can negatively affect training and performance. Employees suffering from high levels of stress may find it harder to retain new information, thus reducing learning’s stickiness. Also, sporadic training events are not usually efficient at making learning memorable. At the end of the day, this only wastes valuable time and resources. To get the highest ROI out of training, learning leaders must consider their employees’ mental health and well-being.

“Mental health is a driving factor when it comes to considering anything in the workplace because attraction and retention have never been more important,” Fairhurst says. “Employees look to their c-suite and leaders to encourage mindful behaviors. As the chief executive officer, I set an example of prioritizing well-being and safety to provide a positive company culture.”

Training may be required for skills development and organizational success, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be mindful. On-the-job training can provide employees the chance to learn specific tasks aligned to their role within their workflow.

Take charge of your employees’ stress. Stop scheduling training in the middle of a workday — or year — and make it a part of your learners’ every day.