Olympic athletes rely on their coaches to guide them—they have the experience, perspective, and training to bring rising stars to their fullest potential.
But to do so, coaches also need to check in with their proteges. They need to understand how they're feeling, thinking, and reacting—what motivates them to push themselves, what needs they may have that are unmet.
Let’s extend the metaphor to the L&D world. In order to help employees grow and learn, Learning and Development professionals need to get inside their heads. This is true no matter what, but it’s especially relevant now, with the “Great Resignation” looming.
That’s why we decided in July 2021 to poll 600 American employees to find out what they wanted from their workplace L&D programs, and what we can all do to meet these needs. You can read the full results here, but we thought we’d explain why we felt that now was the time for this kind of deep-dive into the motivations, qualms, and experiences of the American learner.
Up until the pandemic, many thought leaders sensed that a new preoccupation was taking over the hearts and minds of America’s white-collar workers: that of workism.
Workists find identity and purpose in their employment; it defines who they are and what they strive for, and they put in the hours to prove it. As Derek Thomson explained back in 2019. “What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.”
But then COVID-19 hit. All of a sudden, many people who had put their careers at the heart of their lives started to rethink their priorities. What if there was more to life than a job? What if I want to find meaning elsewhere? Why am I doing this? As Thomson explained, “A culture that funnels its dreams of self-actualization into salaried jobs is setting itself up for collective anxiety, mass disappointment, and inevitable burnout.”
And just like that, millions of Americans quit. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that during the months of April, May, and June 2021, 11.5 million people left their jobs.
In the wake of this “Great Resignation,” what does it mean for a large portion of the college-educated population to suddenly decide work isn’t the most important thing in their lives? Is there room for employers to rework the equation? What role might L&D play in this recalibration?
Our survey shows that employees crave workplace learning; when answering the question, “How important are learning and training opportunities to your overall satisfaction with your job?”, the median answer was 84 (on a scale of 1 to 100). This suggests L&D teams have a crucial part to play in retaining talent.
This suggests L&D teams have a crucial part to play in retaining talent.
Of course, not everyone has been affected by the pandemic in the same way. An overwhelming number of U.S. employees found themselves without a job or unable to work. For most, the impact was less about their sense of purpose, and more about the economic ramifications of being unemployed.
And some groups were hit harder than others. Women, for instance, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, feeling the strain of workplace and family responsibilities: “Mothers have also been twice as likely as fathers to worry that their work performance is being judged negatively because of their caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic. As a result, roughly 1 in 4 women in September said they were thinking about downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely due to the COVID-19 crisis.”
In this climate, women and other groups disproportionately affected by the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic have more specific needs and expectations from their L&D programs, especially relating to upskilling, reskilling, and flexible learning. For instance, women in our survey were on average less satisfied with their learning and training experiences than men, with a median score of 72 vs 84.
Women in our survey were on average less satisfied with their learning and training experiences than men, with a median score of 72 vs 84.
We believe that there’s never been a better time for L&D leaders to show their true value as a driver of business growth. Too often, Learning and Development plays a supporting role at a company. But, as we’ve seen, a business’s most precious asset—its employees—are experiencing monumental change.
At a time when more and more people are reevaluating their relationship with work, ambitious L&D professionals have a real chance to prove the worth of their field as a business driver. By aligning learning goals with larger company goals, Learning and Development leaders can earn a seat at the C-suite, and gain access to the resources and buy-in needed to make real change.
But to do that, they need information. In our survey, we aimed to get to the heart of learner motivation and challenges that could help power this alignment. We asked questions about how satisfied employees were with their L&D experiences, how important professional development was to them, and who they thought should determine their Learning Needs.
If you’re an L&D professional looking to better understand the changing learning landscape—and understand exactly what your learners need to adjust and thrive—you can download the full report, here.