The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges for learning leaders, and engagement is at the top of the list, according to Training Industry’s pulse survey research. Employees are having to combat a multitude of distractions, from working remotely to technology issues to increased levels of stress and anxiety. The dynamics of work have changed and so has learning.

In the midst of all this chaos, who wants to attend a training program that has no clear, direct benefits? Let’s be honest: Absolutely no one. If not managed effectively, training can be viewed as a waste of time and resources by learners and stakeholders. Great training organizations do not leave training outcomes to chance; they conduct a thorough needs analysis to close skills gaps and strategically align training to company goals and objectives.

When presented with training opportunities, employees immediately wonder, “What’s in it for me?” This phrase is well known in the training industry and serves as a barrier to learning transfer. To overcome this barrier, learning and development (L&D) professionals must answer the question and communicate the benefits of training to learners – much like a marketing professional.

It’s easy to overlook the fact that training is a product, and products need to be marketed to consumers to increase gains. For training, this means ensuring learners understand how the training relates to their job role and how it will improve their performance. To be truly effective, L&D professionals must engage learners before the training takes place.

Oftentimes, there is so much focus on making the training itself engaging – from selecting the most appropriate content and delivery method to embedding interactive tools like quizzes, videos or games. Don’t get me wrong, training should certainly be engaging. But engagement becomes an uphill battle if the learner begins training without a sense of purpose. At that point, learners need all the “bells and whistles” to capture and maintain their attention.

In today’s work environment, employees are distracted and struggling to focus. The dynamics of work are certainly different – but L&D can help. Let’s examine a few ways L&D can help cut through the noise and improve employee engagement.

Upskill Leaders

Now more than ever, managers should be respectful of their employees’ time and the responsibilities they are juggling in their personal lives. Now is not the time to create busy work for employees; now is the time to lean in and listen to your employees. Empathy, listening and emotional intelligence are critical skills for leaders in today’s work environment. By strengthening these skills, leaders can better support employees on their journey to the new normal.

Adopt a Holistic Approach to People Development

Anxiety and stress are often viewed as personal issues, but they impact our professional lives tremendously. A holistic approach to training goes beyond developing the technical and hard skills that employees need to complete their job – it also accounts for the emotional and social development of employees. Organizations that prioritize employee well-being create a culture where employees feel valued and empowered to succeed.

Align Training to Shifting Priorities

Odds are your business goals have shifted due to the impacts of the pandemic. Keeping employees aware of these changes is critical. The entire organization, including training and development, needs to be aligned around these new goals to ensure success. Transparency can instill confidence in employees as they navigate change and relieve anxiety regarding the state of the business.

Learner engagement is a challenge in today’s work environment, but it doesn’t need to be an uphill battle. A thoughtful and holistic approach to training can elevate employee performance when stress is at an all time high.