It’s been proven in study after study: employees who feel engaged at a company are more inclined to stick around longer. Companies with engaged employees also have 202% better performance than companies with low employee engagement.
And while there’s a lot of focus in online content around different tactics to engage employees and offer them professional development opportunities at work, there’s less advice about how to support them at different stages of that employee growth.
You can offer tuition reimbursement, create a lending library, or set up a learning management system, but if your leadership doesn’t reinforce the message that they’re there to nurture each employee’s professional development, it’s all for naught.
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5 Ways to Support Employee Development
1. Allow a Buffer in an Employee’s Schedule
If Chet’s manager tells him in one breath that he fully supports him learning a new programming language on the job... and then in another breath berates him for not having enough time to complete his current project, he’s sending mixed signals.
Professional development takes time and energy, so you as the employer need to be okay with employees using some of their precious time to take training courses, attend conferences, or meet with other employees in mastermind groups.
If you’re leading a project and you know at least a few key members of the team have professional development obligations that take five hours a week, make sure to plan that into your timeline. Never make an employee feel like you resent them stepping away from their daily responsibilities to prioritize his growth... or you may end up losing them.
Related Article: Implementing a Mentoring Program at Your Office: The Basics
2. Use Employee Development to Your Benefit
Some employees will take advantage of whatever training or resources you have available, while others may need a little nudge. Particularly if you have an employee who you’d like to either improve his skills in his current area of focus or who you’d love to see take on more responsibilities, you can encourage his interest in beefing up his skills.
He may be unaware that you have a refresher training course on the tools he uses regularly. You might casually mention that the training goes into detail on some newer features he might not be adept at yet, and suggest he check it out. If you’re envisioning him in a different role, compliment his work and tell him you think he’d be a great fit for the position... if he could increase his knowledge in a different area.
3. Stay Tapped Into the Process
If you don’t check in with an employee who’s using your professional development resources, you might not know that someone struggled with the learning management system and then gave up. She might do better with some one-on-one training from a colleague.
It’s your role to create a learning environment that works for each person. And everyone’s different; some prefer to use online training modules they can access on the go, while others need more hand-holding or visual training.
Make an effort to speak with each employee that’s working on their skills (it’s good to check in regularly anyway) to see how it’s going, whether they're experiencing any obstacles, and whether there’s anything you can do to facilitate the process. Something as simple as letting them push back the due date for a project might reduce their stress and help them achieve their personal growth goals.
4. Understand It’s Not (Just) About You
While sure, companies that offer great development programs have 34% higher retention rates, you can’t be selfish in thinking that employees want to level up their skills just to work for you.
Employees will still leave. You can’t stop that entirely (though asking the right exit interview questions can help you determine whether there’s a common cause for employees quitting so that you can remedy it).
Consider your professional development program to be an altruistic effort. Certainly, you hope that your company will be the recipient of your staff’s ever-improving skillset, but be okay if they walk away and let another company benefit from their knowledge. Focus on engaging employees in other ways so that the staff you have will find more reasons to stick around.
5. Support Employees at Every Stage
What a person who’s new in their role needs in terms of professional development looks vastly different from what a long-tenured employee needs. Take a customized approach to each employee’s options to ensure that the professional development program you offer is relevant at every stage.
You might get Bill, who’s been with the company for 15 years, reinvigorated about his work if you make him a mentor for a less experienced employee who’s new to the team. For new hires, you could offer a “pick your own adventure” type development program that lets them decide what they want their career path at your company to be.
Professional development is, of course, just one piece of the engagement puzzle. Offering multiple ways for employees to expand their knowledge will give your company a competitive edge, but make sure that your people enjoy the work they do or have the ability to be promoted or move into other areas of the business. Treat them well, compensate them fairly, and give them perks that make them feel lucky to have such a great employer.
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