Workers Look to Managers for Training Encouragement

Supervisors need to make employees feel OK about asking for help and education

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek September 4, 2019
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​Some employees are afraid to admit that they don't have the skills they need or that they don't have time to pursue workplace training, according to a 2019 report from Sitel, "Future of Work and Employee Learning."

About 30 percent of 1,200 employed U.S. adults said they fear looking dumb or incompetent, and nearly half—46 percent—think that promotions, bonuses or raises will be held back if they don't have certain skills. One-fourth did not attend or complete training because they didn't think their manager considered it important or because their manager didn't encourage them to do so.

What's an employer to do?

Educate Managers

"We have to make sure we're training managers and that they understand it's OK for people to say, 'I don't know how to do that.' It's OK for the employee to say, 'I don't know, but I really want to learn,' " said Julie Emerson Gurican, senior director of people at BenchPrep. The e-learning provider is based in Chicago.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing Employee Career Paths and Ladders]  

Manager involvement drives employee learning, according to LinkedIn's 2019 Workplace Learning Report. Three-fourths (75 percent) of workers would take a course their manager assigned, but fewer than half (46 percent) find out about learning opportunities from managers or others in leadership positions. The findings are from a survey of more than 1,200 learning and development (L&D) professionals and HR professionals with L&D responsibilities, and more than 2,000 employees around the world.

There's further evidence of a disconnect between managers and employees about training: While 79 percent of managers said they've told their direct reports what they need to do to get promoted, only 50 percent of workers said their manager has conveyed this information, according to a Pulse of the American Worker survey. The findings, released Aug. 23, are from an online survey of 2,000 full-time workers.

Consider Incentives 

Incentives can motivate workers to pursue training, Sitel found, and can take different forms.

Nearly half (49 percent) of Generation Z and one-third (33 percent) of Baby Boomers said their employer provides monetary rewards such as gift cards and certificates at the end of the year for completing training, Sitel found. Thirty-five percent of Millennials said their employer motivates them with the opportunity to apply for a promotion. 

AT&T workers who earn nanodegree credentials through their employer's training program, for example, are considered for jobs where they can use their new skills—such as front-end web development, data analytics, iOS development and programming. AT&T created the program of self-paced, fast-track learning in partnership with Udacity, an online curriculum and credential creator, and launched it in 2014.

Customize Learning 

Offer a variety of learning methods.

BenchPrep, which employs as many as 90 people, offers each employee a $1,200 annual stipend to be used toward training.

"It's cool to see what people use it for," Gurican said. Many of its developers use the money to attend Ruby Conferences, forums for presentations specific to Ruby technologies. One graphic designer used the stipend to attend a 12-week UI UX (user interface user experience) bootcamp in preparation for a new role. Others use the money for smaller expenditures such as tech books, fees for local networking or meetup groups, and management and leadership classes.

The Coaching for Everyone program at Culture Amp, an employee analytics platform, helps participants reach professional or personal goals.

"Plenty of organizations offer coaches to their executives," founder and CEO Didier Elzinga wrote in his blog. "[This] program is for everyone, because we want all our people to grow, not just those in the boardroom."

The benefits, he noted, are indirect but substantial.

"For example, having an experienced counselor teach you better communication with your spouse will probably do more for your work performance than any amount of work-focused training." 

Communication skills, in fact, are among the top soft skills identified for 2019 that employers want their employees to have, according to Udemy, a corporate online learning platform based in San Francisco. 

Other top soft skills are conflict, time, stress and change management; customer service; emotional intelligence; personal productivity; and storytelling. LinkedIn noted in its report that some of the U.S.'s fastest-growing roles—those in sales development and customer-experience—are largely soft skills-based.

"Being able to lead a difficult conversation, showing empathy, collaborating, communicating effectively across different mediums" are important communication skills, BenchPrep's Gurican said.

Make Time for Training 

"Oftentimes, employees can feel a kind of tug-of-war in getting their work done versus taking time for learning and development," Gurican observed. "Everyone has goals and tasks to complete, and it's almost as if we need to put learning and development on that task list" so people feel they can take time for it.

PwC—one of the Big Four accounting firms in the U.S.—created a Digital Accelerator Program for employees at all experience levels. The two-year immersive training teaches skills such as automation, machine learning, design thinking and digital storytelling. Once workers are reskilled, they are sent back into the business to act as catalysts to disrupt and evolve the firm.

Participants, who include people working in tax, assurance and consulting, are given "protected time" that frees them to apply their training to a program-related project. They may, for example, be exempt from Friday meetings as part of their protected time.  

"It's deeply important to our learning culture that we give those people protected time" to learn, said Bhushan Sethi, joint global leader of people and organization at PwC's New York City office. 

Then, PwC gives them the opportunity to apply what they learned. 

Leaders should make training relevant to the business, Sethi noted. That requires getting leaders to map learning back to the business around areas such as innovation, cost savings and growth. 

"Be really clear," he said. "You're creating a learning journey." 


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