Is Fulfillment Part of Your Learning Equation?

In a Metrus Institute study of fulfilled versus unfulfilled people, continuous learning was a major factor mentioned by so many of the fulfilled people—those who felt productive and energized at work.

Less than one-third of employees are fully engaged, according to the Metrus Institute, and Gallup reported that 49 percent are fully disengaged. A five-year study by my team at the Metrus Institute also tells us that 80 percent of people are not feeling totally fulfilled in their lives. Further, much of the feeling of being unfulfilled is rooted in work—non-compelling corporate vision, uninteresting jobs, low personal growth, bad bosses, un-motivating cultures, or lack of recognition. Senior leaders often contribute to this lack of fulfillment through subpar learning and development policies, communications, rewards, and measurement.

The feelings of low fulfillment in the workplace transcend generations, with numerous Baby Boomers feeling burned out by years of the same old-same old routines at work. Gen Xers often express concern about organizational policies that limit their ability to renew, and the tools or resources to support that. And many Millennials we interviewed are afraid to commit to organizations that are not dedicated to sustainable growth and development. Said one Millennial, “I want to work for an organization that keeps pushing me and provides new experiences.” In fact, training and development transcends generations as a key element in creating fulfillment in the workplace and profit for the bottom line.

While many organizations recognize how important growth is for Millennials, we have found many disconnects between what is pitched during recruitment and how the organization actually behaves. In our work in building employer brands or employee value propositions (EVPs), we often find firms touting attributes that sound exciting, such as innovative, employee-centric, or a learning environment, even when their reality is far from those aspirations. Surveys done by the Metrus Group at hundreds of firms find that many employers do not have a strong learning culture. More than one-quarter of employees do not have access to the development they need to perform well in their jobs; 26 percent have not had opportunities to learn and grow in the past three months; and more than one-third do not see good opportunities for advancement.

Millennials quickly find out from their longer-tenured Boomer and Gen Xer colleagues that the first things to get shaved by most organizations during even brief financial downturns is training. Allan Weisberg, former Chief Learning Officer at Johnson and Johnson, says, “Despite how strongly committed companies are to training, the reality is that training is an easy area to pare back, from what I have observed in numerous organizations over the years.”

“It’s not only the reduction of learning opportunities,” according to Laura Mindek, former vice president of World Wide Executive Development at American Express, “shifting training commitments can send all the wrong messages to employees. People don’t forget knee-jerk and often irrational cuts—especially in customer service skills, when customer service is the core of the company’s brand message.”

And that is the key point. In our study of fulfilled versus unfulfilled people, continuous learning was a major factor mentioned by so many of the fulfilled people—those who felt productive and energized at work.

3 Fulfillment Factors: ACE

Let’s step back a moment because learning does not take place in a vacuum. Fulfilled people had three big factors that contributed to their fulfillment, and learning interconnects with all three in various ways.

  • Alignment between company vision and values and their personal life goals and values, as well as the right balance across different sectors of their lives—work, family, relationships, avocations, health, and others. When goals or values are misaligned, there is little motivation to learn.
  • Capabilities to be successful in their roles. Most people fear failure. Individuals I studied wanted to be competent to succeed in their work, in their relationships, and other aspects of their lives. That might include strong work skills, becoming a better leader, or being a better communicator with a spouse or friend.
  • Engagement or passion for what they do. Passion was mentioned over and over again as what really gets people out of bed and revved to do their work. Without passion, they are just plugging away to get through the day. Having a job that enabled them to grow and learn was one of the most important elements behind their passion and engagement.

When these factors are high, fulfillment is enabled, leading to higher motivation, performance, and retention. Jack in the Box, for example, has linked these three factors to its restaurant performance and found that restaurants that have employees who are high on all three—Alignment, Capabilities, and Engagement (ACE)—outperform others consistently and produce 30 percent higher profit per restaurant, with 21 percent less turnover.

6 Ways to Contribute to Fulfillment

Training and Development leaders have a huge opportunity to contribute to these ACE drivers of fulfillment in six key ways:

  1. Begin by assessing your employees. Where are your gaps today in growth and development, and how might they be contributing to low ACE? Organizations such as Jack in the Box can identify the importance growth and development—how much it contributes—in high or low engagement, for example, which, in turn, affects retention of employees. Surveys of employees focused on development can be helpful here. Forget trying to use data from omnibus engagement surveys that only devote a few questions to this issue. Also, focus groups with your Baby Boomers and Gen Xers can be very telling. Learn where these more experienced workers see gaps.
  2. Check out your new hires. I am always surprised by how few organizations assess their new hires one, three, and six months after hire to see if what recruiters or hiring managers have promised regarding growth and development, or other issues, is consistent with what they have experienced in the workplace. If you wait 12 months, or even six, it may be too late!
  3. Don’t write off Baby Boomer development. One of the biggest discoveries from our interviews was that most Boomers want to continue to grow, but not always in the same ways Millennials or younger cohorts do. The sad fact is that many companies have assumed their Boomers are beyond caring about growth and development as they prepare for retirement. Not true. Many are simply less engaged because the organization has not allowed them to flourish in new ways, such as mentoring, coaching, learning new skill sets, or taking on new roles. One of my interviewees said, “When I was given a totally different assignment at 50, it brought back my energy and excitement.” Another interesting feature of Boomers is that many are empty nesters who now are ready to dive back into their work in a bigger way. Development on the job or through intentional programs can be a great way to re-engage them.
  4. Give managers the tools to train better. One of the biggest fallacies of 70-20-10 learning in which 70 percent supposedly occurs on the job is that it assumes managers are equipped to create the conditions that enable their people to learn and growth. Most are not, which argues for stronger manager training, not only in traditional areas such as decision-making, problem solving, or communication, but in the intricacies of creating fulfilled employees, and creating learning environments in which employees can thrive.
  5. Educate your top leaders on fulfillment, and its payoff to the organization. If they understand the importance of fulfillment, they will better understand the role learning plays, and how they can better support it. A few ways leaders make a huge difference:
    1. Alignment—Create and communicate a compelling vision and mission. Fulfillment begins with visions that draw people to them. Then design the organization in ways that enable people to contribute in meaningful ways.
    2. Capabilities—Help people match their work skills growth in ways that are aligned with their longer-term personal goals. Only then will they be motivated to learn and absorb new challenges.
    3. Engagement—Bring out people’s passions. Leverage their strengths in ways that make sense for both the individual and the organization. Recognize people frequently for new learning and accomplishments—be a positive reinforcer.
  6. Lastly, measure, measure, measure, but not in a debilitating way. In my workshops, measurement is often a dirty word. Why? Because it too often is used to punish rather than help people reach new heights. Athletes use measurement every day to push themselves to performance levels. In many corporations, measurement focuses on failure rather than an opportunity to get better. Surprisingly, measurement often is missing in a majority of training or leadership development programs in organizations.

Armed with these tips from the front line, you can be a key enabler of both corporate performance and the fulfillment of others, and no doubt, use them to enhance your own fulfillment.

William A. Schiemann, Ph.D., is CEO of Metrus Group. He is a thought leader in human resources, employee engagement, and fulfillment and author of “Fulfilled! Critical Choices—Work, Home, Life.” For more information, visit; follow Dr. Schiemann on Twitter, @wschiemann; and connect with him on LinkedIn at

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