How professional development can ensure employee engagement

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All employers dream of the ideal workforce—employees committed to the organisational goals; personnel who work to improve their company’s products; staff that gets excited about the successes and achievements of the business; teams that uphold the culture of the workplace and add value to the workplace culture. Simply put, employers desire employees who are engaged, loyal and committed. And employees will be so only if their employers invest in them.

If you ask the millennials, they will tell you that they prefer working for organisations that offer them opportunities to develop professionally, to update their skills, and to take courses that are relevant to the changing work environment—they seek career progression. In fact, studies have shown that if there is no opportunity for professional development, millennials would rather quit that job and opt for another organisation that allows them to learn new things, grow in their careers and develop as individuals.

Interestingly, for the millennials, professional development tops the list of priorities. It means more to them than cash rewards. Not only do they wish to see their careers growing in leaps and bounds, they also wish to enjoy a fine work–life balance. They are not the ones who will stop pursuing a passion for the sake of their jobs. They are the ones who will go swimming, hiking, playing music and also excel as executives. They want it all— fame, respect, entertainment, relaxation, money and a sense of achievement.

So how can such a generation’s professional development be ensured?

(i) Offer educational and training opportunities

Millennials are eager to educate themselves. They never switch off their learning mode. Any formal training that will increase their competency and help them excel at work will be welcomed by them. Employers can begin by passing on all information and details pertaining to best practices.

Encourage them to read some online articles on a regular basis, to stay updated. Give them access to books, seminars, and e-learning programmes, especially massive open online courses or MOOCs as they are popularly referred to.

A wide range of courses are available that will benefit businesses and employees alike. By encouraging the employees to enrol for programmes that are relevant to their current roles and also helpful in their career going forward, the employers gain in the form of updated employees, while the employees learn new skills and stay relevant.

To improve the overall efficiency of the organisation, cross-departmental/cross-functional training is a must. While this does not really lead to people considering career shifts, it definitely lets each employee know how significant their own as well as others’ work or job is in the overall running of the business.

The training does not always have to be technical. In fact, these days, soft skills are considered more vital than anything else. Employers are realising how important emotional intelligence is at work. In fact, the best leaders are those who are self- aware, motivated, disciplined, empathetic and possess high levels of social skills. These are all nothing but soft skills.

Other skills that can be useful to the employees, not just in the professional environment but also beyond that, are communication skills, exhibiting the right body language, ability to interpret other people’s facial expressions and body language and practising non-violent communication. Training in ways to improve communication will help the team on the whole and keep them together.

Provide your employees with resources that will empower them to enhance their professional skills. Invest in webinars, software tools, and subscriptions. Invite guest lecturers/ industry experts to interact with and speak to the team.

Encourage the employees to undertake research in their areas of expertise. Give them more responsibilities to handle and learn. Help them build a professional network.

(ii) Mentor them

Allow your employees to connect with their seniors professionally as well as personally. This allows the juniors to learn from the seniors and gain inspiration. Create an effective mentorship programme, which helps employees with similar responsibilities and jobs to connect and learn from each other. Such programmes help establish enduring professional relationships and allow the employees to value networking. These mentorship programmes can last for a few months or even a year. These are especially helpful today when managers lack the time to share or pass on their knowledge and skills to those below them. A formal programme will make them take time out to mentor and coach others.

If organisations do not want to make the mentoring process formal, they can simply ask their leaders and managers to indulge in regular conversations with the employees—discussions that will help the employees introspect and go over their own achievements and realise their potential.

(iii) Help them develop holistically

Start by ensuring that your employees enjoy emotional balance. Ask them questions about their work, whether they are satisfied, whether they are able to handle the responsibilities given to them, and so on. Listen to your employees, lend them support and help them out of a difficult emotional situation, if any.

Teach your employees about personal finance and relationships. Make them realise how important it is to save and secure their future. Teach them about wellness and how they can achieve the same at work and at home. Encourage them to pursue their hobbies and learn new things. Provide them gym memberships and urge them to exercise regularly. Offer them training in yoga and pranayama and drive home the significance of physical fitness.

Professional development of employees is all about offering them the tools required to perform their jobs efficiently and training them such that they are equipped to surge ahead in their careers. By facilitating their professional development, organisations are only letting the employees know how much they care about them. The employees pay back with their loyalty, productivity, and complete engagement that helps the organisation grow.

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