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No Time for Training? Consider Role-Specific Learning, Reassessing Workload

A woman sitting at a desk with a laptop, phone, and other things around her.

​Workplace training is ineffective, according to a new report. Among the reasons: Employees lack time during the day to develop new skills, and the training that's offered isn't relevant to their needs.

Among 1,209 employees in the U.S. and U.K. at organizations that offer some form of training or professional development, 65 percent said they either don't have enough time or that the training doesn't match their role, according to The Pursuit of Effective Workplace Training, which was released by Emergn, a digital business service based in London.

The survey, conducted in July, focused on the opinions of learners at the management level or below, as well as IT directors and HR leaders who are responsible for overseeing workplace training. 

A different report, The State of Learning in the Flow of Work in 2022, found that nearly half—47 percent of 2,961 respondents—said they don't have time to engage in structured, tailored learning at work. The only way they see their learning and development improving, they said, is if their manager lightens their workload. The findings are from a survey conducted in July in France, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. for 360Learning, a Paris-based collaborative learning platform.

Find Time for Training

Employers need to rethink employees' workloads and schedules to carve out time for learning and development, said Jennifer Moss, author of The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It (Harvard Business Review, 2021).

"We need to be creating space inside the workday to develop those skills," she said. "People right now are feeling so exhausted, so tired. Their workload is so high" that there's no time for training except on mandatory topics such as sexual harassment.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations were operating with a sense of urgency, and "we're still behaving kind of like that," Moss said. "Everyone feels like [what they're working on] needs to be done immediately, and we haven't gotten out of that habit, … even managers."

More than two years later, "there hasn't been a pause," she noted. "We haven't sat back and said, 'Do we need to upgrade our training?' We're still working ineffectively, which is adding to our workloads and adding to our burnout."

She recommended the following strategies:

Assess and adjust workloads. Be realistic about what an employee's workload will be while in training, and make adjustments, Moss advised.

That can be difficult, she said, because "we just can't imagine not taking on new revenue opportunities, not growing. It does not occur to any employer that we have to slow down for a year because of [having gone through] the pandemic."

Finding time during the workday for training does not mean impinging on employees' lunchtime, though, said Moss, who takes issue with the "lunch-and-learn" approach to training.

"We should be able to [let] people have their lunch without expecting them to go through training. We're already in an 'always on' culture," she said of workplaces in the U.S. "Work feels right now like school without lunch and recess. It's really depressing, and people feel none of the good things" they once enjoyed about work.  

Address meeting fatigue. Rethink back-to-back meetings and whether a meeting is necessary. Moss pointed to a 2022 Microsoft Work Trend Index report that found a 252 percent increase in how often teams meet weekly since February 2020.

"More dynamic, creative or emotional topics may require a meeting, while status check-ins and informational subjects may benefit from document collaboration, a team's channel or e-mail," Microsoft noted in an earlier report, its 2021 Work Trend Index. "Other simple tasks may be handled via chat." 

Talk to your team. It can be valuable, Moss said, for managers to meet weekly with their team for 30 minutes to ask how everyone is doing, learn what motivates them and create relationships within the team. Discuss what staffers are working on, specific training they might need to more efficiently use the tools they have, and how to reduce workload or handle a current challenge. Additionally, ask how their training is progressing and whether it's still aligned with their desired career progression.

Make Training Relevant

Emergn's report also noted that nearly one-fourth (23 percent) of respondents from the U.K. and the U.S. said the training that is available is not relevant to their role.

"Based on our survey findings and conversations with Emergn's own clients, leaders and learners may not always agree on which type of workplace training is more important," said Steven Angelo-Eadie, Emergn's head of learning services.

He pointed to one data point that showed learners and leaders disagree on the training that is most important: 49 percent of learners consider effective communication and presentation skills important, while 45 percent of leaders said learning to manage people is paramount.

"Employers need to take [employee] feedback into account and survey what training is most sought after by its employees," Angelo-Eadie advised.

Also, consider role-specific training—working on real projects and sharing learning across the entire team.

"Many employers view workplace training as daylong training sessions or standardized e-courses," Angelo-Eadie observed. "For employers to weave [in] training that is relevant to their employees, they should focus on real-work situations and incorporate on-demand learning.

"On-demand learning focuses on delivering education within the context of an employee's workday, which helps employees learn new concepts while on the job."

When creating a workplace training plan, include skills that employees can immediately apply to their roles, Angelo-Eadie said.

"The training plan should allow employees to internalize new knowledge and must align to the skills needed to support an organization's growth. This includes measuring not just the skills gained by employees, but also how that led to measurable organization outcomes."


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