Over the past 10 years, the dramatic shift to a knowledge economy has created competitive demand for an agile workforce. Attracting and retaining appropriately skilled talent has been challenging for organizations of all shapes and sizes. Workers need to be prepared for a dynamic marketplace spurred by tech advancements within a complex (global) network of products and services. That is a tall order to begin with.

And then came the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past two years, the standard playbook for recruiting, retaining and strengthening the talent pool had to be rewritten as the discourse and discussion has shifted towards a more inclusive, diverse and holistic workplace. Suddenly, organizations had to rethink work practices, and new elements of culture as fundamental to the employee experience and, by extension, retention.

But how do companies define culture? Is it a set of principles or an actionable framework? And who defines it? Leaders or employees? Human resources (HR) and operations or employee resource groups (ERGs) and corporate social responsibility (CSR)? The answer is that it is a team sport, and it goes beyond corporate slogans to the authentic opportunities and support available to the team. Everyone should contribute and be held accountable. Nonetheless, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have now realized the palpable influence of learning and development (L&D) on culture-building and employee well-being — particularly in a hybrid and remote environment.

It is true that companies have been heavily investing in L&D for a number of years. In fact, Training Industry research found that global spending on L&D in 2020 was an impressive $357.7 billion. However, the conventional approach to L&D has been to allocate resources toward onboarding, mandatory training and staggered skilling. But what about fostering a sense of belonging, community and fulfillment tied to larger company goals? For leaders already trying to offer relevant, fresh L&D experiences within existing charters, this may seem like a “nice-to-have” versus a “need-to-have.” However, as the future of remote and hybrid work continues to evolve quickly, the need for organizations to step up and play a leading role in mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is increasing. So, how can companies do this in a sustainable, measurable way? Here are three approaches to consider:

1.) Create a Learning Roadmap from Interviews to Performance Reviews

Most companies use the onboarding process to usher new employees into the mandatory training module and this serves as the introduction to its L&D programs. Though compliance and safety is critical to meeting industry requirements, there is a lost opportunity to talk about the kind of learning opportunities that candidates are seeking for their development, and it should happen as early as the interview process. This could serve as the first stamp in their “learning passport” for a customized roadmap aligned to their desired growth plan while at the company.

Performance reviews can serve as checkpoints along the way to help shape growth in the employee’s current role and then toward their advancement or transition to a new role. To internally promote the value of these courses, implement a ratings feature to capture employee feedback. This way, structured learning becomes a crucial component of the employee experience.

2.) Gamify the Learning Experience by Unlocking Rewards

In a virtual workplace, it may be difficult for companies to design the right kind of community building activities to mirror in-office camaraderie. L&D can become a communal space for enrichment with a dose of friendly competition. For example, you could design learning-centered competitions that unlock different learning levels across a core skill set (e.g. writing, public speaking, presenting) that will eventually lead to rewards or recognition (gift cards, internal communications promotions). This also would organically spotlight the role of L&D to the C-suite.

3.) Design Learning Playlists” for Modern Workplace Interests

For corporate L&D to be seen as relevant and personalized, it needs to address the realities of the modern workplace. Beyond reskilling and upskilling, L&D can be a method to tap into authentic conversation and provide support around social impact and employee well-being. Here is one framework companies can use to promote mental health education:

  • Partnering with leading organizations to add their resources to workplace learning libraries.
  • Consulting with experts to determine how learning fits into the broader picture of well-being.
  • Designing learning “playlists” so that people at work can find the content they need, when they need it, with topics touching on emotional intelligence, burnout, self-management, mindfulness and much more.

When companies keep L&D at the center of employee experience and organizational culture, there are cascading benefits, from authentic engagement to shared identity to collective purpose. These not only help retain employees but turn them into workplace champions for upholding a company’s value in a highly competitive marketplace for securing talent.