Despite headlines of soaring wages tempting employees to change their jobs, the reality is that employees’ decision to leave is multi-faceted. While remuneration may be one factor in making a move, two-thirds of employees say that the coronavirus pandemic has made them rethink the place that work has in their lives. As a result, research suggests that up to 45% of employees are seeking positions that meet their new expectations, leaving over 60% of executive leaders “significantly concerned” about the impact of employee turnover.

While an inflated salary can be a significant sweetener, job seekers are now looking for the whole package: inclusive, supportive and flexible workplace cultures alongside demonstrable opportunities for progression and development. For example, 70% of employees are tempted to leave for an organization known for investing in employee development and learning. Over one-third of employees who have quit say they were pursuing career development opportunities.

The Pandemic Is No Longer An Excuse for Poor L&D

Employees want to invest themselves in meaningful work that provides growth opportunities. Unfortunately, too many employers are not investing in providing this environment. They are losing out on just the talent needed to ensure recovery and growth as we move forward from the pandemic.

As CIPD’s 2021 research highlighted, during the COVID-19 pandemic, learning and development (L&D) tumbled down the list of priorities. Almost one-third of organizations reduced L&D budgets and resources. While the immediate COVID-19 crisis may have demanded a shift in focus, employees will not accept why their post-lockdown career progression and learning opportunities continue to languish now the crisis is almost over.

As the CIPD research co-author Andy Young, of Accenture, explains:

“The need for learning is greater than ever. Business priorities have shifted rapidly, creating needs to flex the workforce and their skills around new work. Digital workplaces and the acceleration of cloud computing have demanded more specialist data, security and technology skills. A desire for more inclusive and meaningful experiences continues to drive needs for empathy, leadership, communication and other human skills. And probably the greatest need has been from individuals, who see personal growth as an essential part of meaningful work and careers.”

Employers who do not now double down their efforts to develop meaningful L&D programs are not only doing a disservice to talented employees, they are hindering their business in the long term.

We know the monetary cost for replacing employees is huge: Gallup estimates up to two times the employee’s annual salary while the time it takes to fill a role has increased 18% since before the pandemic. Time is money, especially considering that over nine in 10 employees say they would stay longer in a position where the organization was invested in their career development.

Employees leaving for lack of development represent those most hungry to learn, most focused on improvement and therefore most likely to deliver for your business in the long term.

Future Skills Require Investments Now

When workforce skills are evolving, organizations rely on employees who are invested in continual learning. Gartner research has found that building critical skills and competencies is a top priority for 59% of human resources (HR) leaders in 2022. A comprehensive focus on L&D shows employees that their organization is truly invested in them. It also ensures they are ready to deploy the skills of the future. And, of course, the more deeply employees are embedded in the organization’s learning culture, the greater their connection and loyalty.

As ever, building a strong L&D strategy starts at the top. Organizations that embrace learning from the top show that investment in people is a core value, which will help to both attract, maintain and retain talent.

Leaders must demonstrate they are invested in their team’s professional development, and that also means listening and responding to employee needs. Workers themselves are often the best barometer of what is needed to further success, whether it’s technical training to support the latest technologies or management mentorship to enable greater cohesion and collaboration in the new workplace.

Luckily, the importance of L&D is becoming a real priority for businesses, and we’re even starting to see government spending being allocated to training. For example, the British government is investing £2.5 billion in the National Skills Fund, helping adults to train and gain the valuable skills they need to improve their job prospects. Government directive paired with private prioritization of continuous learning is a step in the right direction and will play a huge role in supporting apprenticeships and graduates coming into the workplace.

These investments in training will help companies retain talent as they gain the skills and knowledge they need not just for today, but the role they would like to be in next year and beyond. If companies can provide a career path and learning can sit at the heart of it, the digital skills gap will begin to close. But for companies to support learning, increase engagement and create curiosity to learn, they must build a culture of learning throughout the organization. Employees need a choice of how they gain knowledge and when they want to access it. The expectation would be that investment in high quality, next-generation learning solutions should have a positive impact on retention and attracting new talent. This can (and should be) measured and lead to positive outcomes and overall business return on investment (ROI).

In the storm of the pandemic, business leaders captained their organizations through seismic shifts in working practices and rapidly evolving cultural expectations, emerging from the crisis with a very different ship to steer onward. With the storm lifted, a new front has emerged where old tactics won’t work. Higher salaries might seem an easy win, but those with a long view know that going beyond to offer L&D that inspires talent today will continue to pay dividends far into the future. It’s not the time to throw good money at poor, reactionary strategies. Invest in a holistic strategy that encompasses the whole range of employee expectations and reap the rewards.