COVID-19 has disrupted the workforce, forcing employers to consider remote work, layoffs, furloughs, and return-to-work scenarios quicker than expected. Unfortunately, these actions can have unintended, far-reaching consequences to employee engagement.
According to Gartner, employee anxiety, frustration, and burnout are common COVID-19 sentiments that erode productivity and engagement when left unattended. This is concerning since only 34% of employees and 35% of managers reported they were engaged at work in 2019.
“The number one focus of employers right now should be employee engagement,” says Eagle Hill Consulting after their national poll found 54% of U.S. employees were worried about exposure to COVID-19 at their jobs. Internal HR survey data is consistent with this finding, showing employee mental health, productivity, and commitment are indeed decreasing as a result of disengagement. This post connects the dots between learning, training, and employee engagement.
What is engagement? Different employers will have different definitions. At its core, engagement is when an employee feels “high levels of involvement (passion and absorption) in the work and the organization (pride and identity) as well as affective energy (enthusiasm and alertness) and a sense of self-presence.” It is also a behavior, which essentially boils down to “going above and beyond” what employees are expected to do for an organization.
Learning is an effective way to reengage employees because it counteracts the negative effects of disengagement. Multiple studies have shown that learning and development (1) contributes to positive outcomes of employee engagement, (2) aligns employee behavior with organizational goals, and (3) sets an organization up for future success.
It also produces many benefits. Research consistently shows lower absenteeism, higher productivity, more innovation, better retention, and increased profits have resulted from an engaged workforce. Training has also been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. According to Harvard Business Review, learning brings us “new information and knowledge that can be useful for solving near-term stressful problems; it also equips us with new skills and capabilities to address or even prevent future stressors.”
The personal and business benefits of training are powerful, so it’s important to understand how they happen. According to learning and development expert Dr. Carmen Poole, engagement happens when a person appreciates information not just for its own sake, but also with the goal of applying it toward something else. Learning, by its very nature, builds something greater than before. For employees, that’s a good feeling.
When employees achieve this “something else” they’re making a conscious effort to apply their knowledge. In the case of COVID-19, learning can solve and prevent dysfunctional work situations that cause disengagement.
For employers, learning is accomplished primarily through employee training. According to ThinkHR survey data, 68% of employers were delivering online training to employees. With a larger remote workforce as a result of COVID-19, employers have an increased need for quality online training that is also cost-effective. It’s an investment.
Fortunately, online training isn’t just a temporary necessity. For years, it has been increasing in popularity as a valuable way to deliver learning to all types of workplaces. Compared to in-person training, online training can allow organizations to instantly track participation and completion, create data-driven benchmarks, and scale to deliver consistent training across office locations, employee groups, and (especially now) remote employees. Online training, like learning, is an activity that can add value for years.
Training by itself is valuable. But to be most effective, an organization needs to strategically incorporate it. One of those strategies is employee motivation. If an employee is motivated to take training and learn from it, it will be more successful in making a larger impact on the individual and the organization. To do that, training needs to connect with employees’ state of mind; it needs to meet them “where they’re at.” This is a foundational concept in education.
There are as many different types of training as there are employee states of mind. From our vantage point, we’re seeing health and safety, skills and career training, and leadership to be critical topics that can re-engage employees right now. As employer and employee motivations change, especially in response to COVID-19, the availability of a comprehensive training catalog will allow employers to engage employees now and in the future.
Through June 30, 2020, ThinkHR is making its Pandemic Response training courses available to employers with existing access to ThinkHR Learn.
The combined entity of ThinkHR and Mammoth is a trusted provider of HR knowledge and technology-powered employer solutions. Together, the two companies deliver HR on-demand to hundreds of thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses nationwide.