Stephen Humphreys: Is learning the magic ingredient for a loved up workplace?

It’s Valentine’s Day and this year, February 14th also falls at a time when employers everywhere are starting to think about the increasing threat that is ‘Coronavirus’.  The number of cases is increasing so are all the people among us who are ‘in love’ better protected from the risks? Who knows? But joking aside, there is a known link between the effects of being in love and our health and wellbeing. Scientists have measured the positive effect that love has on our immune systems especially. So perhaps all those people out there who are celebrating life, love and happiness with their special friends get a natural immune boost?

If being in love has such a positive impact on our health and wellbeing levels, what about at work? If we are spending a third or more of our lives at work, shouldn’t we be feeling loved up about our jobs and the organisations who employ us. Of course, and in HR circles it’s called employee engagement. Employees who are engaged about their work are more satisfied, less likely to be sick (or call in sick) or be stressed and anxious. The negative health effects of employee disengagement are well documented.

What is less widely appreciated is the strong link between employees being offered learning and personal development opportunities by their employers and their levels of love at work – a.k.a. employee satisfaction and motivation. Organisational psychologists have highlighted the importance of employees feeling ‘invested in’ and how this correlates with levels of engagement and employee retention. A recent study by Deloitte also found this. Engaged employees are 87 per cent less likely to leave their organisations. It is simple, when people feel loved and invested in they are happy and happiness brings better health – personally and organisationally. Employees who are in love with their work want to do a better job. And they do.

Yet many UK employers are not providing any of these learning at work opportunities, maybe because they are not aware of this correlation.  Maybe they think engagement comes from having awaydays and free food? That helps, but it’s not as important as investing in their personal development. We know this because as part of our company’s annual Trend Report, we asked working age adults in the UK about their own learning at work experiences and how much they valued being offered personal development opportunities.

The results were very clear – 80 per cent think that developing soft skills like communication skills, productivity, leadership and teamworking are very important. Those who had completed a soft skills training course in the last 12 months were much more satisfied with their employer, more motivated and said they enjoyed their jobs significantly more. They also said it improved their performance, with 63 per cent of completers saying it had a positive effect on their ability to succeed at work.

However, the results also showed that almost half of employees in the study had not been offered a chance to develop their soft skills in particular. 45 per cent of people had not done any soft skills training courses in the past year. This reflects other industry research from e-learning providers, which found that over 40 per cent of workers had not been offered any learning opportunities during a 12-month period at all.

Some of the attributes of engagement – going the extra mile, fostering a good working environment, being motivated and feeling positive, are all connected to personal development opportunities. It makes complete sense because skills like people management, communication, relationship building and leadership are much harder to develop than technical skills, so when a company invests in its workforce and helps them with the hard stuff, you will see an improvement in motivation and employee engagement. This is reflected in the survey results. It showed that employees who attended one or more soft skill training courses in the past year were more satisfied with their employer (7.7 out of 10) than those who didn’t (7.3 out of 10). They are more motivated, scoring 7.9 vs 7.6) and they enjoy their job more (4.1 vs 3.9) out of 5.

Employee engagement is actually very important metric for determining the effectiveness of an L&D programme. We see this link between love and learning all the time. When companies start to invest in core skills training and personal development. They report higher levels of engagement and employee retention after they begin offering soft skills learning. So if you want employees that have fallen in love with their jobs and their employers – literally – give them the chance to learn and grow.