A new study shared here reveals 86% those aged 25-35 – roughly “Millennials” – would prefer to remain in their current job if given the chance. They’d like to move up in the organization but also value the development of skills and abilities that, unfortunately, their employers just aren’t providing them.
Many companies frequently encourage employees to continue their education in some manner or another. That might be through in-person classes, seminar/conference attendance, online courses or some other means. They may even offer benefits that will pay for those classes in full or partially to help make that happen. If the employee hasn’t acted on that, they may be penalized on their next performance review.
(Side note: The very idea of “education” also needs to be slightly expanded. You know that one person in the office who’s an RSS junkie, subscribes to a dozen industry email newsletters and is always sharing articles of note with the office? They may not be taking three classes every quarter, but that two hours they spend reading, processing, distilling and sharing is absolutely a form of continued learning. Yes, I speak from experience.)
It’s often expected, though, that such learning and continued education will happen outside of work hours. The employee has to take time out of their personal life to do so.
There’s no doubt that additional learning is a good thing for the individual, who gets to increase their own knowledge and skill set. It’s in their best interest to stay up to date on new topics and so on. And it of course benefits the company, who gets to market and utilize that expanded skill set.
So why is “Education and Learning” not an actual part of the standard work day?
When Google was still in its early days, one of the workplace innovations the public and press gawked and marveled at was its “20% time” idea. In short, it allowed employees to spend as much as 20% of their day on personal side projects. Sometimes those turned into new Google projects, sometimes it lead to a new company being founded when the person left Google, sometimes it was just a lark they were indulging.
Google could, of course, afford to do that because their revenues were so massive that cutting 20% off people’s time and productivity didn’t result in much of a hit. The idea didn’t spread across Corporate America because other companies can’t absorb 20% reduced productivity.
What if, though, the idea were tweaked a little. What if companies said “Everyone is allowed to spend up to X% of their work day on continued education. That can be an online course you do at your desk, an outside class that means you leave at 1pm every Tuesday or whatever else works and is appropriate.”
Fostering that kind of education and not expecting people to take time out of their other lives seems like an investment worth making.
There’s a conversation that comes up all the time in the press when hiring and HR people are asked about staff training and retention: “What if we invest in our people and they leave?” The common retort is “What if you don’t and they don’t?” It illustrates how companies don’t want to expend precious resources on helping employers improve their skills because they’re afraid it will only make those people more attractive to a competitor or other company.
The survey results linked to above, though, show that the vast majority of employees *want* to stay where they are. They want the kind of long-term job stability their parents or grandparents had. Some are always going to be moving around, driven by a natural wanderlust or other reason. Employers will never see full retention and likely don’t want it.
Not everyone is going to take advantage of this kind of learning time for whatever reason. I would be willing to bet, though, that there’s a lot of value that could be unlocked among those who doe, especially when combined with other preferences like meaningful work, flexible work arrangements and additional benefits.
An emphasis on continued education could be a key element of increasing productivity, which has remained stagnant in recent years. It’s the human equivalent of making sure your IT systems are running the latest software, that you’re replacing the gears on your industrial equipment regularly and other standard maintenance.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.