Published in Sept/Oct 2018

There are a lot of theories about how to engage employees in learning: tell stories, make the class interactive, connect the learning to purpose, use graphics, etc. Yet, despite these new trends in learning, only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged in their work. From this, we might conclude that formal and informal learning is not translating into workplace engagement.

If we are to go back to basics, we need to examine why this translation is not occurring. Below are suggestions of basic learning strategies that could help learning leaders translate their work more successfully.

Integration of learning: When learning leaders operate outside of the C-suite, they compromise the relevance of what they are offering. Also, if you view the organization as a collection of brains, it does not work well when the strategic powerhouse has an agenda that is separate from the people who will execute on this mission.

Potential solution: Explore whether learning should be a separate function from “human resources” and educate senior leaders on why learning matters. Ensure that all learning is tied to organizational goals and design a strategic flow that is coherent for the entire organization. Also, organizations should allocate resources for this mission, or they risk recycling ineffective content and approaches.

Address the dreariness of work tasks: Even when work is “okay” or “do-able,” it can be very tiresome. When the brain responds in this way to work, work will not get proper attention. In the many requests I have received, among them being workshops on managing change or burnout, or building resilience or creativity, I have not encountered learning leaders asking for “how to deal with work when it is dreary and unrewarding.”

Potential solution: For many leaders, the work can be engaging and interesting, so they expect everyone else will feel the same. Also, leaders do not understand that the psychological dynamics around authority also translate into decreased work efficiency when employees feel that their dreary lives are not recognized. Having a workshop that addresses this topic with a view to finding solutions may start to address the disengagement issue.

Set a separate learning agenda that addresses the subconscious: Learning leaders often leave subconscious interventions to therapists, not realizing that being a learning leader means that you have to also master subconscious obstacles that impact the organization. In fact, in the human brain, factors outside of conscious awareness play a major role.

Potential solution: Hold workshops and design interventions that address subconscious factors that impact workplace engagement. Ask questions like, “What are the subconscious factors impacting engagement?” or “What are the subconscious factors impacting team alignment?” By asking these questions and tying the content to realistic outcomes, learning leaders can develop a culture that is less obsessed by conscious factors and more engaged in understanding the underlying psychological and functional drivers within an organization. 

Connect learning to employee health: Depression and anxiety are highly prevalent within organizations, yet learning leaders often ignore this. Both of these factors impact brain function and productivity, so being in denial of these factors can impact the effectiveness of learning interventions.

Potential solutions: Work with employee health to design screening events and educational tools for mental health. Include this in the overall design. Use video resources such as LinkedIn Learning to learn the basics about depression, anxiety, stress and burnout. And expose employees to these tools so that learning does not occur in a psychological vacuum.

When learning exists in a vacuum, it’s difficult to tie this to organizational goals. When learning is tied to organizational goals structurally (through the C-suite), realistically (by addressing boring work), psychologically (by addressing the subconscious), and humanely (by addressing psychological issues), the learning design will be more relevant and impactful.