When it comes to workplace learning, many organizations struggle with issues such as worker engagement, insufficient resources or proving the return on investment (ROI). And yet, learning can help retain high-performing and high-potential talent, creating a competitive advantage: something every business wants. 

Meanwhile, with a recent study suggesting that over half of employees will quit their jobs once the pandemic is over, boosting retention efforts is something any well-prepared employer ought to have in mind.

Here’s the problem: Many organizations are doing workplace learning badly, with forced content, clunky systems and apathy toward self-improvement. This doesn’t nurture a learning culture; if anything, it will send employees running in the opposite direction, negatively impacting retention rates in the process. 

To strengthen workplace learning while boosting retention, consider the following: 

Upskilling and reskilling need to be top of mind in the post-pandemic era

Candidates won’t know what they don’t know. This is true of employees, too. Consider generational differences, for instance. 

Younger workers may not realize how much practical learning they need to tackle coming right out of college, which tends to emphasize theory. Conversely, older workers may not be as well-versed in the latest technological advancements as their digital-native counterparts. 

Learning helps to bridge these gaps — provided you identify the gaps in the first place. Way back in 2018, the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report stated that more than half of employees would need reskilling or upskilling in the next three years. 

The pandemic has not made this any less likely (to give just one example, the question of reskilling is featured prominently in the latest Human Capital Trends research from Deloitte). 

What that looks like, however, is on the employer to figure out — and fast. 

Employees probably won’t ask

Even if they do see what’s coming over the transom, your employees might not realize they can ask for additional learning. 

These programs tend to fly under the radar. Ask yourself — are they seen largely as a must-do for compliance purposes within your company or as providing genuine opportunities for growth and development? 

Start the conversation about learning by talking to candidates and employees about their goals: both personal and professional. The recruiting process provides at least three opportunities for you to find out what candidates want to learn. 

For current employees, broadcast changes to your learning program and invite them to share their interests, whether that’s drone racing or mastering Python. 

Enact meaningful change

Once you have the data, use it — and do it in a personal way, making learning more about the employees than about the organization. Include the necessary components for employees to succeed, but once those are complete, there’s no reason not to offer Python and drone racing. Having the opportunity to pursue these passions may open the door to others, inspire the creation of special-interest groups and build bonds between workers. 

Use learning to help employees be the best versions of themselves while they're in your organization. The sky’s the limit, provided you put the resources in place. 

Define a clear path

To ensure that learning maintains a relationship with retention, go deeper on personalization. 

Integrate learning with career pathing; mentorship and sponsorship; leadership training; and the like. Send employees where they need to go, even if that’s outside of your learning management system. 

Here’s another idea: Tie learning with succession planning to spotlight the road ahead, whether they’re a new hire or existing employee. 

The more that learning becomes part of their everyday lives, their futures and the corporate culture, the more that employees will take advantage of what’s offered. 

Give learning to your employees to own, rather than holding the reins. 

Give employees a reason to learn 

Consider adding some incentives to learning, whether that’s compensation, rewards or recognition. 

Many organizations aren’t doing that right now, but perhaps they ought to be. Make learning worth the time and effort at every turn, even when you’re just covering the basics.

The folks at Deloitte once found that more than half of companies aren’t linking the acquisition of new skills to incentives, missing a huge opportunity: 

“Organizations that put incentives in place to help make sure that managers support learning, and that employees find learning opportunities practical to pursue, are likely to reap benefits both in terms of new skills learned and in terms of encouraging a learning culture.” 

Once you move away from the institutionalized curriculum that most of us experienced as kids, learning becomes aspirational and rewarding. 

To improve both your workplace learning and your retention rates, rethink the learning process; provide programs that cater to individual employees over the long run without sacrificing the organizational benefits.


William Tincup is the President of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.