As any of our regular readers will know, engagement is an indispensable part of any good management strategy. And we’re due for another installment in our workplace learning series. So, let’s break down the relationship between employee learning and employee engagement.

In our last installment, we highlighted the relationship between learning and performance. And, in that piece, we cited increased engagement as one of the factors behind learning’s impact on how employees perform.

As usual, let’s start by getting our definitions straight.

Defining employee learning and employee engagement

Employee learning and employee engagement are both fairly broad terms. But learning is the easier term to define. So, let’s start there.

Employee Learning

Workplace learning, or employee education, is exactly what it sounds like. It’s anything which helps to develop our skills or knowledge. And there are several ways to learn at work.

  • Formal training workshops.
  • Virtual training exercises.
  • Knowledge resources.
  • Unstructured on-the-job learning.
  • Structured on-the-job learning (peer mentorship, secondments, shadowing, etc).

But what about employee engagement?

Employee engagement has historically been hard to define. And that’s because it’s influenced by so many factors. These include everything, from your commute and what your boss is like, to difficulties in your life outside of work. Essentially, if it impacts your employee experience, it probably affects engagement too.

But, when you really boil it down, engagement is how emotionally committed and attached they are to their role. But also to their colleagues and the business itself.

Overall, we’ve observed five key performance indicators for engagement. These points of reference can help measure it on individual and business-wide levels:

  • Pride in one’s work.
  • Feeling valued by managers and colleagues.
  • Willingness to go the extra mile.
  • Brand advocacy (high eNPS).
  • Consistent job satisfaction.

How educating employees benefits engagement

If you’re struggling to keep people engaged, then we recommend investing in employee learning. It’s easy to assume disengaged staff will be that way no matter what you do. But this is a huge mistake. Usually due to lack of effective communication and  two-way feedback.

The relationship between employee learning and employee engagement is one of mutual benefit. When employees have a rich variety of learning opportunities, they’re more likely to be engaged. And, if employees are engaged, they’ll have more motivation to learn.

Learning and development prevent boredom at work

Opportunities to learn new skills also help prevent us from becoming bored at work. And few things kill employee engagement like boredom. Learning and growing at work affords people a sense of ongoing job satisfaction.

Expanding your employees’ skills means they can take on new challenges and responsibilities. And being able to mix it up professionally can help prevent work from becoming stale. But the benefits go further than that.

Professional development makes employees feel valued

While we don’t all have the same levels of ambition, most people like the idea of advancing professionally. Continual training and education shows employees that their development matters.

Aside from encouraging them to engage in learning, it also develops organisational loyalty. And commitment to the organisation is an important part of comprehensive employee engagement.

In fact, one study found that employees who had strong L&D opportunities were 3.5 times more likely to agree their employer could help them meet their career goals. They were also 25% happier, and 31% more likely to recommend their place of work to others.

Which leads nicely into our next point…

The impact of employee engagement

Now we’ve established the connection between employee learning and employee engagement. So, let’s look at the impact and potential business benefits of the latter. And you’ll see why employee engagement is so essential for good performance management.

Brand advocacy and discretionary effort

So, opportunities to learn and develop can make employees want to recommend their workplace to others. This is a great example of how engaging your employees can turn them into business advocates.

Business or brand advocacy is when someone makes a sincere recommendation. That might be as a place of work, as above. Or it might be for the services and products your company offers.

And employees make the best advocates because they’re ideally well-informed. But you can’t force real brand advocacy. Even if you give them things to hand out, or content to share on social media, friends and family will know it’s not genuine.

True brand advocacy is a form of discretionary effort. The willingness to go out of your way to do things above and beyond the scope of expectations. And that’s something you can only expect from a fully engaged employee.

More productivity

There’s a wide array of research showing the positive impact of high engagement for businesses. This includes increases in productivity ranging from 22% to 38%.

This is down to a couple of things. First, engaged employees are more energized. This means they’re more active, and better able to focus.

Second, they’re less likely to make mistakes, or fail to pick up on those of others. This means engaged employees also prevent lost productivity caused by mistakes and setbacks.

In fact, just a 10% increase in engagement spending can boost profitability by over £2,400 per employee per year. So, imagine what you could do if you invested in both employee learning and employee engagement.

Increased innovation

High engagement can increase employee innovation by up to 44%. This is partly due to engaged employees thinking more about their work. But it’s also due to the broader benefits of an engaging workplace culture.

What we mean is that engaged employees will also be more interested in each other’s ideas. So, there’s a much better sounding-board for working out the finer details of new ideas.

Less absenteeism

Highly engaged employees are far less likely to display absenteeism. Some research puts the rate of reduction at around 41%. But research from Gallup shows an 81% difference in absenteeism for employees in the top and bottom quartiles for engagement.

Either way, it’s a huge difference!

Lower employee turnover

If the Great Resignation has taught us anything, it’s that ignoring disengaged employees is a good way to lose them. Frustrated or dissatisfied people are bound to go looking for better opportunities.

Gallup’s research shows the difference high engagement makes. For high-turnover businesses, engagement can reduce it by 18%. But this increases to 43% for organisations with low turnover.

So, even if you feel like you do well with retention, there’s always room to improve.

How businesses have invested in employee learning

Alright, so we’ve made a case for employee learning and employee engagement. Now, let’s look at what actual businesses are doing to provide their staff with education and upskilling.

For some good examples, let’s look at the 2022 winners for Best Companies’ Special Award for Learning and Development.

Small companies winner: Energize Group

Energize Group’s investment in “sophisticated” learning programs ‘…has helped empower their employees and provide all the resources they need to take control of their personal development.’

They also bring in industry experts to train interested employees on a variety of subjects. And, in 2022, they implemented equality, diversity and inclusion training.

Mid-sized companies winner: Gearset

Gearset invested in development options across every department in their business. To achieve this comprehensive approach, they used the following initiatives:

  • Feedback and personal development.
  • Internships.
  • An aspiring managers program.
  • Management development training.
  • Employee support programs.

Large companies winner: Costello Medical

Costello Medical got noticed for its comprehensive career development program. Along with their assortment of internal training options, they also offer paid study leave with full course funding.

It’s hard to think of a better example of a company truly valuing employee learning and employee engagement.

Big companies winner: Skipton Building Society

Skipton Building Society distinguished itself by offering employees self-directed learning experiences. They also provide staff with huge knowledge resources, and hold “building a better you” weeks.

SBS have also invested in a Graduate Leadership program, to keep bringing new knowledge, skills and ideas into the company.

Good employee training doesn’t exist in a vacuum

By looking at those winners, you should be able to pick out some important commonalities. Like the sheer range of choice they afforded their employees.

If you really aim to use learning and development as an engagement tool, then you have to supply the options people need or want.

So, including your people in the discussion is absolutely essential. Check in with your employees and learn exactly what kind of development opportunities they wish they had.

When it comes to employee learning and employee engagement, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Some employees might thrive doing online skills training in their own time. But others might do better getting to shadow someone during the workday.

So, the more comprehensive your development options, the better your workplace’s learning culture will be!