Now that the pace of the workplace has become faster, it is crucial that learning and development leaders fully understand the motivations of their workers to ensure that employees embrace and fully engage in development opportunities.

The employee experience encompasses everything from the time candidates are recruited until the day they leave the company. Throughout this entire journey, they will likely encounter numerous formal and informal development opportunities. To ensure those opportunities are effective, managers are responsible for creating a work environment that translates into a positive and supportive employee experience. With research showing that positive employee experiences lead to improved performance and better returns on investment (ROIs) for companies, there is no better time than now to optimize your learning and development strategy to ensure it motivates, connects and supports your people.

The Power of an Engaged Workforce

Working with employees to set and achieve goals keeps them motivated, since they are continually looking forward to new accomplishments and rewards. While motivation kick-starts this process, engagement — or an employee’s willingness to go above and beyond for your organization — is ultimately what creates lasting results.

For example, companies with engaged employees see improvement in areas such as:

  • Talent attraction
  • Improved productivity
  • Customer loyalty and satisfaction
  • Employee-driven advocacy
  • Retention of top performers
  • Financial performance

But the path to becoming engaged is not always clear for employees. Gallup has found that knowing what is expected of them at work is critical to employees’ remaining engaged in their assigned tasks. By setting clear goals for each team member’s professional development, reviewing and adjusting them regularly during your ongoing employee conversations, and providing frequent feedback on their progress, you can support greater alignment and improve team performance.

Discovering employees’ strengths, weaknesses, motivations and career goals should be a team effort, so learning and development leaders can easily and frequently assess their work, set milestones and think about the big picture. Given that only 26% of millennials report feeling that their employers are invested in their professional development, collaborating on goals will help them — and all workers — feel more connected and plan reasonable, attainable and concrete goals alongside their managers.

The Current State of Employee Engagement and a New Approach to Consider

Despite large investments in employee engagement programs, a mere 15% of employees are actually fully engaged at work, according to Gallup’s most recent “State of the Global Workplace” report. At the heart of these dismal engagement levels is how the nature of work has changed in recent years. Skilled labor is in high demand, organizations are increasingly tasked to do more with less and looming threats like the reskilling of the workforce hang heavy on the minds of many organizational leaders. In many cases, it is the learning and development leader’s role to help employees keep pace with the rate of disruption. To make sure employees can successfully keep up, leaders need to continually help upskill and reskill their employees. Doing so hinges on their ability to engage them and understand their motivations. This process hasn’t historically been successful (otherwise we would have seen the improvement in engagement already), so many leaders are beginning to think outside the box to decipher the engagement equation.

In a recent survey of full-time employees across industries, tenure and roles, Chadwick Martin Bailey (CMB) discovered that employee satisfaction and advocacy is motivated by initiatives that support these five key psychological benefits: personal identity, social identity, cultural identity, emotional and functional benefits.

Tracking and enhancing the three types of identity benefits specifically plays a large part in inspiring stronger employee engagement and retention. The most important of them — personal identity — focuses on an individual’s self-esteem and sense of purpose. By developing and grooming employees’ skills for the future, learning and development leaders can directly support this benefit.

Change is emotional, and emotional benefits are the second-most important driver of employee engagement. By tapping into the emotions that help them feel excited about the future, optimistic and challenged, learning and development leaders can support and nurture that psychological benefit.

Lastly, functional benefits, which include more traditional initiatives such as compensation packages, perks like work/life balance policies and professional development efforts, tie in closely to how an organization supports an individual’s goals. By investing in development opportunities for their team, leaders show them they care, want to nurture their skills and help them keep pace with change. Ultimately, it sends the message that they’re committed to them over the long term, just as they would like them to commit to the organization.

The Impact of Psychology on the Workforce

Many companies focus their employee engagement efforts on quick fixes such as promotions; bonuses and raises; flexible work arrangements; or conveniences such as catered meals, game rooms and happy hours. But, as CMB discovered through its research, these types of benefits are just part of what meaningfully engages employees. By understanding the psychological forces at play, organizations can effectively improve employee loyalty and drive engagement. This process is important, because companies with highly engaged employees not only boast lower rates of turnover but also lead in everything from sales and profitability to quality control and satisfaction.

While it can be easy for leaders to think that emotional issues are just due to “an off day” or brush them aside because they are uncomfortable addressing them, the costs of not dealing with these types of employee issues can be far greater. The exposure that learning and development leaders have to team members, often during moments of vulnerability, can be especially valuable indicators of how team members are processing their emotions. As a result, learning and development is an important conduit of knowledge about the underlying emotional stability of the organization, including areas of opportunity and focus.

With happy, engaged employees feeling greater connections to their leaders, their organization and their colleagues, they are more likely to feel the psychological safety needed for them to perform at their best and collaborate effectively. As a result, leaning into the unique relationship learning and development teams share with employees to glean these insights should be a priority for organization seeking to improve engagement and, ultimately, retention.

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