Prioritize learning at work has long term benefits


Working in the gambling industry is hardly ever dull, as the nature of the industry itself lends itself to entertainment, excitement, and innovation. But after a few years of actually doing the job and getting used to the beats, it can be pretty easy for an employee to feel they’ve hit a rut. The job isn’t as much fun as it used to be, they don’t know how to progress, and they just aren’t feeling as motivated as they once were.

In my experience, the way out of that rut is through learning new applicable skills, and finding ways to use them. It’s exciting to learn new things, so it’s a great way to get employees motivated again, and it carries the benefits of increasing the employee’s value, and their return to the organization.

But to really get the most out of emphasizing learning, it has to be done right, and it so often isn’t. You have to get to know what makes your employees tick to get their buy in, following through on the process and following up on it.

What do my employees want to learn?

First, let’s get this out of the way. Encouraging learning isn’t the same as putting a training program in place. Training programs are great, and they help employees learn skills that the organization needs to accomplish its mission, but it isn’t the same as getting employees invested in their own learning.

What we’re talking about here is helping employees go above and beyond the pack by learning something that is specific to their own interests. The only way to accomplish that is by getting to know what each employee is interested in, and finding ways they can grow from that interest while still benefiting the company.

For example, a few years into my career in online gambling, the head of my department realized that I’m fascinated by new technologies. I see them like fun new toys, and I want to understand how they work inside and out. She took that passion and made it work for the organization by steering me towards productivity tools. She made it my mission to learn Jira, the ticketing tool that we were using, and to use that new knowledge to improve the organization.

I took to the challenge like a child with a new box of Lego. I built the initial piece my boss needed of me, but then I went about dismantling the tool as best I could, learning how every piece of it worked. Over a couple of years, it became my work-hobby, learning how I could apply Jira to make the organization better, in ways no one else was thinking of.

That ended up being a huge benefit to the organization long term. Not only did I find new uses for the tool from what I had learned, but I was able to spin that knowledge into training and help others learn as well.

The same can be said for some of my direct reports, who requested to learn skills like web development and project management. While those skills weren’t necessary for their jobs, the takeaways they got from the process became great added skills for the organization, and they ended up contributing to projects they would have otherwise had no part in.

Prioritizing learning

You’ve got this far, congratulations! So you and your direct report have discussed what they have an interest in, they’ve committed to learn more about it, what comes next from your end?

Simply put, you have to follow through as a leader. While learning something new is in itself valuable for the employee, if they don’t feel you are wholly supporting them to accomplish this new goal, not only might they drop the endeavor, but they’ll feel less valued as a result. If their growth isn’t as important to you as the next batch of quarterly results, then why should it be important to them?

This means taking care of your side of the bargain, however that works out. Maybe you suggested there was money in the budget for them to take classes. There better be, because if they put the work in to find a class they like and that money suddenly isn’t there, they’ve just wasted their effort and passion for nothing. Maybe they’ll need time during their workday to continue learning and applying their new skills. If there isn’t, why was it so important that they learn in the first place?

I’ve seen coworkers crushed because learning opportunities they were teased with were taken away at the last minute. I’ve seen others lose all motivation because they spent weeks learning a new skill, only to never have an opportunity to use it. You can’t have any of that.

Between you, the employee and the organization, time, money and effort were put into this whole process of learning. If you continue to commit to the goal, you’ll see long term benefits. If you don’t, it was all a waste.

Following up on skills

In my Grade 10 math class, a student asked why we were learning the formula for calculating barometric pressure, when there was equipment designed to calculate that for us. The teacher joked that if we ever needed to calculate barometric pressure, maybe we could impress someone with our math skills enough that they would gift us the equipment we needed.

What I’m trying to say is, if you tell people to go out and learn, but never show an interest, or find a use for their new skills, then why did they do it? So many well intentioned training sessions end up being wasted for this reason, and when you are specifically encouraging learning amongst your staff to help motivate them, you don’t want to fall into the same trap.

You have to make following up on an employees self-directed learning as integral a part of your coaching sessions. Just as important as meeting metrics and accomplish tasks. If you’re asking about skills learned, they’ll know it matters, and will be even more motivated to learn so they can discuss it.

And if you agreed to give time and money towards an employee’s training efforts, always draw a clear line to how they can apply it to help the organization, and help their prospects for future promotions. There are tangible benefits to new skills, and talking about them keeps everyone invested.

Don’t forget the intangible benefits though

While there are very clear benefits to employees learning and applying new skills, the intangible benefits are important too, and a very good reason to promote learning. Staff want to know they work in an environment that promotes growth, and they’ll stick with a job that perhaps has grown stale if they know they can be improved by it.

So push learning as a habit with your teams. It may distract from the overall mission for a few hours a week, but everyone benefits from it long term.