How Focusing on Learning and Development Enables Employee Engagement


To keep up with a dynamically changing workforce, learning and development (L&D) leaders need to thoroughly understand the factors influencing this change, so that they can help support a culture of employee engagement and drive organizational performance, writes Diane Belcher, managing director of product management at HBP (Harvard Business Publishing).

The global workforce is undergoing a depth of change unlike any seen before. New jobs and new technologies, among a host of other forces, are changing organizations at an unprecedented pace, on top of being the most generationally diverse workforce ever. While keeping up might be a daunting task for L&D leaders, having a solid understanding of the factors influencing this change can help them chart a course to support a culture of employee engagement that embraces the new workforce and fuels organizational performance.

Research shows that this is the first time in history that five generations are working side by side, with each generation bringing its perspective to work. And with millennials moving to leadership positions and Gen Z entering the workforce, the amount of cross-generational tension is increasing. For leaders, this shift means focusing on ways to promote understanding of differences across their teams, while reinforcing the many expectations that are common across generations, like purpose, desire for respect, growth opportunities, and flexibility.

Employees are more driven than ever before to continue their learning outside the office. In a recent joint studyOpens a new window we conducted with Degreed, we found that learners today are aware of their skills gaps and are constantly working to fill them. Additionally, they want more from their organizations in terms of guidance and support to get the learning experiences they need to grow. As such, there is a real need for learning leaders to rethink their learning strategies to support the changing expectations of the workforce.

Employees are also seeking out work that has a purpose that is bigger than a paycheck, with people picking their employers based not on just the work they do, but also their alignment to the organization’s purpose. Social responsibility and a culture of meaningful work have quickly become important levers in the competitive market for talent with employees today wanting to work for organizations that define and adhere to the values that matter to them.

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Value Differences

To reach this new workforce, L&D leaders should help to create an inclusive culture. Three key behaviors lead to a truly inclusive culture: awareness, authenticity, and accountability.

  • Awareness: Encouraging employees to recognize their own established patterns and biases, as well as the bias that’s present within their organizations. Awareness starts with recognizing the discomfort that comes with tackling a problem, and honestly assessing how things need to change.
  • Authenticity: Acting with intention and modeling a learning mindset in which differences between people are seen and celebrated as valued contributions.
  • Accountability: Setting the tone and modeling what inclusion looks like at an organization, and actively using power, privilege, and position to include everyone.

Embracing these three attitudes shows employees that their organization values their differences and that they are vital to improving decision-making and generating higher levels of creativity throughout an organization.

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Create Purpose, Something Beyond a Job

Next, L&D leaders need to help create a sense of purpose and autonomy to inspire engagement among their employees. Given employees’ increased attention to purpose and values-driven organizations, leaders who can inspire others to deeply connect with the organization bring immense value.

Tactics that can help engage the new workforce include helping employees see how their work advances the organization’s mission, thinking of them as individuals and considering their values, and articulating the organization’s purpose and contribution to the social good.

Having an engaged workforce that is inspired by the work they are doing pays dividends, as a study from McKinsey & CompanyOpens a new window found that employees who view their jobs as being meaningful generate more than $9,000 in additional revenue.

Develop Your Employees and Help Them “Practice” New Skills

Last, L&D leaders need to provide employees with an environment that will help them grow. As work changes, the skills of the workforce quickly become obsolete. As such, managers at all levels need to get savvy on how to effectively coach, mentor, and develop their teams. They should play an active role in their employees’ learning by encouraging formal and informal learning and development for those they manage.

This means going beyond structured learning experiences and helping employees “learn on the job,” such as co-designing with HR new roles that advance both employees’ development and organizational duties, providing tours of duty in other departments, and helping employees practice new skills and expand their professional networks. Through tactics like these, along with coaching and providing feedback, leaders enable their organizations to gain competencies critical for sustained performance.

These tactics also help them connect better with their employees. Many of today’s employees grew up anticipating immediate feedback, whether it be through the teachers or friends. Having regular check-ins rather than a single annual review helps leaders connect better with the employees and creates a stronger relationship.

With the workforce morphing at warp speed, it is easy for companies to feel overwhelmed by how they approach the future. By mastering these key capabilities, L&D teams can feel confident they have leaders who can mitigate the growing pains of today while setting themselves and their employees up to thrive tomorrow.

How are you driving employee engagement in the new workplace? Let us know on LinkedInOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , or FacebookOpens a new window .