How Learning and Development Can Increase Engagement and Build Unity

When companies are willing to invest in employees’ futures with L&D programs, it’s no surprise that they’re more inclined to stick around.

The past several years haven’t been easy for employees. From the overnight transition to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic to economic volatility (such as high inflation and the looming threat of recession) to anxiety about emerging technology like AI, employees have been through one disruption after another. Companies have been scrambling to determine the best ways to support employees through this turbulent period, but they’re still facing a series of workforce crises: skills gaps, elevated stress levels, and a lack of engagement.

One way company leaders and HR teams can address these problems is with L&D programs that prepare employees for a rapidly evolving global economy while connecting them with colleagues and helping them pursue their professional ambitions. Employees have made it clear that they’re eager to learn new skills, but too many companies are failing to provide the educational resources necessary to help them do so. Considering the fact that opportunities to grow and develop at work are essential elements of employee engagement, this oversight is harming companies on multiple levels – it’s contributing to skills gaps and exacerbating cultural problems (such as feelings of isolation) that already exist.

L&D leaders should increasingly focus on engaging employees and building human connections through training. This will ensure that employees are prepared for the shifting demands of today’s workplace and create a healthier company culture by building unity and improving employee morale across the organization.

Companies face an engagement crisis

It wasn’t long ago that pundits and economists were obsessing over the “Great Resignation” – a dramatic spike in quit rates in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the labor market is cooling and the quit rate has declined, companies can’t suddenly become complacent about the threat of turnover (despite endless headlines about the “Big Stay”). There are still significantly more open jobs than candidates actively seeking work, and employee disengagement remains a major problem.

According to Gallup, less than a quarter of employees report that they’re engaged at work. The same report found that 51 percent of employees are actively or passively job-seeking, and one of the top factors they want in their next role is the chance to “grow and develop.” It’s no wonder employees are searching for companies that offer L&D programs – according to McKinsey, skills acquired at work account (on average) for 46 percent of employees’ lifetime earnings. Companies that focus on building their human capital also have lower attrition rates.

The demand for L&D goes beyond the skills themselves – Gallup reports that other aspects of employee engagement include the perception that employees are valued as individuals, encouraged to improve, and able to do their best work. These are all reminders that L&D can significantly impact your company’s culture and the overall well-being of employees.

Why L&D is especially critical right now

Companies have confronted problems like a lack of employee engagement and the prevalence of skills gaps for a long time, but several workplace trends have made these problems more urgent than ever. For example, there’s the growing role of disruptive technology like AI and automation. A recent McKinsey report predicted that 30 percent of the hours “currently worked across the U.S. economy could be automated – a trend accelerated by generative AI.” The World Economic Forum anticipates that 44 percent of workers’ skills will be disrupted within the next five years, while 60 percent of workers will require training before 2027.

At a time when employees already feel disengaged and burned out, the threat of job displacement and the transfer of more tasks to machines won’t help. When Gallup asked employees whether they experienced a lot of stress the previous day, 44 percent said yes—the highest level ever recorded. The cause of this stress is no mystery—58 percent of U.S. workers say their jobs are the main source of their mental health issues.

The transition to hybrid work appears to have made this problem worse. While most employees embrace remote work when it’s offered, a recent survey found that fully remote and hybrid workers were disproportionately likely to feel symptoms of anxiety and depression. L&D programs can address all these problems by giving employees the skills they need, demonstrating that the company cares about their careers and well-being, and providing human engagement no matter where they happen to be in the world.

When selecting education partners for training and upskilling programs, L&D leaders should pay particular attention to the learning environment. LXPs or self-paced courses couched in a learning management system (LMS), are impersonal and isolating, doing little to combat worker anxiety or depression. Search instead for providers that offer a personalized approach to talent development. Cohort-based programs that feature human-led live online sessions are not only more effective at content delivery and driving course completion rates, but they also breed connection and collaboration between employees. This unification has spillover effects, deepening employee engagement and a sense of belonging long after a course wraps.

How L&D can transform your company’s culture

Introducing revolutionary technology like AI will permanently alter the nature of work, and this will have profound cultural effects. Although nearly half of the employees are worried that AI will take their jobs, 70 percent say they “would delegate as much work as possible to AI to lessen their workloads.” This is an encapsulation of the mixed feelings employees have about AI and other emerging technologies such as automation. They’re nervous but recognize that learning to use these technologies could make them far more creative and productive.

Almost two-thirds of employees don’t feel they have enough time and energy to do their jobs, while 68 percent don’t have “enough uninterrupted focus time during the workday.” While AI can address these problems, employees aren’t equipped to use them effectively – 82 percent of company leaders say employees need new skills to be prepared for the AI era. Almost three-quarters of employees know this skills gap and are “ready to learn new skills or re-train to remain employable in the future.” HR teams need to help employees cultivate skills that will enable them to manage their workloads and do their best work.

This focused investment in talent development not only equips the organization with the proper skill set to succeed in a rapidly evolving tech landscape, but it also drives positive employee sentiment and retention. When a company invests in continuous training, employees are more likely to thrive, taking on increasing responsibilities as their capabilities mature. According to a 2023 LinkedIn report, employees who have made an internal move during their first two years are significantly more likely to stay with the company than those who haven’t.

When companies are willing to invest in employees’ futures with L&D programs, it’s no surprise that they’re more inclined to stick around. By encouraging employees to learn together as a team, L&D leaders won’t just prepare them for the future of work—they will forge human connections while building a sense of unity and shared purpose across the company.

Gautam Tambay
Gautam Tambay is the co-founder and CEO of Springboard.