March 6, 2020

What Makes a Great Workplace?

What makes a great workplace? In the dotcom days, it was all about table tennis tables, bean bags and beer in the fridge. The novelty of that soon wore off, however, when people realised that there’s a lot more to great workplaces than a series of fun but ultimately meaningless perks.

What people really want is to be engaged with their work, to be learning new skills, to have a career that is going places and for their employer to recognise and reward the work that they do. People want to work for organisations that invest in them and keep giving them new learning opportunities. That’s a great workplace. 

It’s a good week for HR and L&D to be thinking about what employees want from their employers. Why? Because this Friday is Employee Appreciation Day, an unofficial holiday in the US and Canada, where the day has been celebrated since the mid 1990s. A recent import here, it’s still growing in recognition but more and more companies are coming on board with the concept.

One of the best ways you can show your appreciation to employees is by investing in their personal and professional development because this is the stuff that really matters to them. A survey carried out by the careers site totaljobs in 2018, (see article HERE), demonstrates just how important learning and development is to people. It found that:

  • 68% of employees have changed jobs because of a lack of L&D opportunities
  • Nine in ten employees want their employer to offer more training courses to develop new skills
  • Two in three employees said training had become more important over the previous two years

Let’s repeat that first figure: 68% of employees have changed jobs because of a lack of L&D opportunities. That’s a very significant chunk of people who have quit their job because their employer wasn’t investing in their skills development.

As well as being very concerning, it also challenges the oft-repeated question: ‘What if I invest in my staff and they leave?” According to the totaljobs survey, people leave because they are not being invested in, rather than the other way round. 

The reality is that if you invest in the professional development of your employees they have a vested reason to stay. It’s actually a very effective and compelling recruitment and retention tool.

And if you are worried about employees becoming more attractive to other employers because you’ve boosted their skills and knowledge then think about how you can encourage them to stay and use those newly acquired skills with you, their existing employer. What about other learning interventions? What about promotions, stretch assignments, mentoring, job shadowing…? Give employees a clear career path, with lots of development opportunities, and why would they want to jump ship?

By upskilling and reskilling people you are incentivizing them to stay, you are engaging them with the opportunities you offer as an employer.

Another way to look at this is to invert the question ‘What If I invest in my staff and they leave?’ to ‘What if I don’t invest in my staff and they don’t leave?’

That’s a pretty sobering thought. If you don’t invest in the skills and development of your staff but let everyone coast along doing the same work, in the same way, then those that don’t leave will just stagnate. And you as an organisation will stagnate. Nobody – organisations or individuals – can afford to stagnate in the world today.

So use this Friday to think about how you can better appreciate the workforce in your organisation by investing in them. What learning do they need? How do they need it? What will help them do their jobs better? And don’t just leave it to the first Friday of March, once a year, when this day happens, to think about this. Employee appreciation and learning and development should be a continuous consideration.