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Rick Blabolil

3 Ways to Create a “Back to School” Culture That Drives Employee Engagement

The month of September means “back to school” for children and young adults across the nation. But we know learning is a lifelong process that isn’t limited to educational institutions. In fact, considerable learning occurs in the workplace where recent studies show that organizations providing employee education opportunities also have higher levels of employee engagement.

SHRM recently reported on a survey of 3,000 full-time workers that asked “what practices are most effective in keeping them engaged.” “Investing in employees’ careers through training, professional development or continuing education” was an effective engagement strategy according to 28 percent of respondents. This wasn’t far behind offering a stimulating work environment (30 percent).

In addition, our experience over the past three decades shows that adding a rewards and recognition component to career development programs increases levels of engagement.

Here are three of the best ways you can create a “back to school” workplace culture that drives employee engagement:

Invest in workforce training. Two-thirds of respondents to a 2008 ASTD (now the ATD, or Association of Talent Development) said that the quality of training opportunities affected their level of engagement. Why? When employees’ master necessary job skills, satisfaction and engagement increase as well. Rewarding employees as they move through each level of training toward mastery supports the process.

Employers also need to consider the response of an increasingly millennial workforce to the issue of training. The “lack of company training and development” was one of the biggest workplace “surprises” reported by surveyed Millennials. At 53 million strong, Millennials now comprise the largest workplace generation.

Create mentorship opportunities. Assigning a mentor to new hires is an onboarding best practice but mentoring can—and should—take place at any point in an employee’s career. A structured mentoring program demonstrates commitment to the employee’s future with the organization; it also fosters bonds between employees and helps to integrate employees deeper into the organization’s culture. Mentorship can also take the form of recognition for a job well done or a goal achieved. And don’t forget to recognize mentees as well.

Support outside educational opportunities. Support for learning opportunities outside of the organization is a key component of leading organizations. In 2011, United Technologies invested more than $12 million to help its employees in Georgia earn college degrees. UPS provides part-time employees with up to $25,000 in lifetime support for education through its Earn and Learn program. The Starbucks College Achievement Plan in partnership with Arizona State University offers full tuition reimbursement as employees advance toward a 4-year degree.

Outside learning opportunities also include support for attendance at professional development conferences and membership in organizations related to an employee’s career choice, such as the Business Marketing Association or National Society of Professional Engineers.

Creating a “back to school” culture is a necessary organizational strategy for success, given today’s intense competition for top talent, the realities of widespread workforce disengagement, and the influx of newer generations that expect organizations to support their career goals.

Would you like to explore how a well-designed rewards and recognition program can support employee training and development? Contact a Marketing Innovators solutions specialist to learn more.