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10 insights for cultivating a happy workforce through learning

“Happy wife, happy life!”

These words of wisdom found their way to that part of my brain responsible with long-term memory after watching RIO 2. There was something about that toucan that made this phrase stick.

Couple this philosophy with the idea that interviewing and recruiting talent is just like dating and the fact that full time employees spend more time at work than with their spouses at home, and I think you'll agree that working relationships between employees and employers are a lot like marriage.

So here are the same words of wisdom, with a twist:

“Happy workforce, happy company!”

It's not uncommon for companies to take employees for granted and think that just because they are on payroll they will always give 110% or that they will be loyal forever and ever. When all companies want is to take, take, take and think that employees should only give, give, give, their relationship will eventually suffer and their employee turnover rate will get big, big, big.

But when both parties treat each other right, and play with all cards on the table, things change. Companies witness higher productivity, better positioning over the competition, a more agile workforce, and an increased attraction and retention of talent. At least this is what established matchmaker company PwC found in one of their studies.

At the end of the day, companies need a happy workforce, in order for them to be happy, because that is a sure fire way to solve business problems and make profit.

The role of workplace learning in cultivating a happy workforce

The working world changes fast and the only way to keep up with it is through learning and development. Employees need to learn and develop themselves if they want to have thriving and flourishing careers. Companies need to learn how to attract the best talent and how to clearly align individual learning objectives with the ones of the organization.

All this learning makes the job of L&D professionals truly essential to the "happy workforce, happy company" mantra.

What follows is a list of 10 insights for engaging with learners in the workplace. All figures and percentages are based on The Consumer Learner at Work Report, which was made by Towards Maturity in collaboration with Filtered and released in February 2016. This report can be downloaded from both sites, and I encourage you to get a copy in case you'll need more details about the statistical data.

Let's dive in!

10 insights for cultivating a happy workforce

1. A bright future ahead!

The modern learner at work is as curious as a cat, but smarter than a cat, because they are aware that curiosity could only kill their yesterday's less knowledgeable self. They turn to technology for better access to learning materials.

“80% say that online learning can help them further in their career.”

Whether we're talking about progress inside or outside the organization, the great majority of adult workers agree that learning and acquiring new skills will lead to professional development.

On the other hand, 4 out of 5 L&D leaders struggle to engage their staff internally.

2. Human nature vs. corporate numbers

Employees are as colorful as a rainbow and they bring waves of energy in the workplace that could never fit into an Excel spreadsheet or a presentation pie chart (no matter how colorful each pie slice may be). They know their hue — and what they need in order to change it — better than anyone else.

“88% know what learning they need and 81% know how to find it.”

Project management, time management, IT skills or learning another language are just some areas of interest for learners at work.

If more organizations took the pulse of their human team through direct communication, they would find out instantly what any reports figures would eventually tell about the organizational learning needs.

As for now, only 3 in 5 L&D leaders agree that their learning initiatives support the skills the business needs.

3. Always on the go

The simple access of the work email, through a phone, after hours is the start for employees to work anytime, anywhere. 70% of employees use their own smartphone while at work and 52% use their own tablet.

“2 in 3 find accessing learning from a mobile device as essential or very important.”

Employees use mobile devices to access learning materials on their way to or from work, when travelling to see a client, during breaks, at lunchtime, on evenings and also during weekends. There are no dead times between the mobile worker and learning. The only real challenge they face is to access learning materials while on the go.

That's no wonder, since only 3 in 5 of L&D leaders say that staff can access learning at anytime.

4. On having choices

People like having choices, whether it's how they dress, what they eat, what car they drive, or what they do with their free time. Why would learning at work be any different?

“80% say that using Google or other search for web resources is either essential or very useful to learn what they need to do their job.”

Employees can find learning sources all around, from the colleague next desk and the line manager, to self-paced e-learning, other courses or any device with an internet connection.

Yet more than 50% of L&D leaders offer a course-only option for training.

5. Why read, when I can listen faster?

Pushing the idea of having choices a bit further, the diversity of people in the workplace and their learning differences means that organizations need to offer more than one type of learning materials. Long gone are the days with text-only training. Today,

“52% of employees use YouTube for their own learning and 89% download apps for education and productivity tools.”

How to videos and tutorials can easily be included in an LMS, and branded apps for learning no longer belong to the distant future.

The above percentages, especially the latter, come in striking contradiction with the opinion of half of L&D leaders, which consider their learning initiatives are being held back by staff reluctance to engage with new technology.


What's in it for me? A long-term collaboration between an employer and an employee need to have a balance between organizational gains and personal gains. The clearly stated benefits of training must be aligned with the professional growth objectives of employees.

“1 in 2 of them want a personalized learning experience and 1 in 4 find this essential for getting the most of a training program.”

A personalized learning experience can be achieved based on data, so it's more manageable with the use of an LMS. Personalization comes with better participation, higher engagement rates, higher retention rates and improved productivity.

Despite this, most L&D leaders are still focused on face-to-face, instructor-led, on-the-premises courses, and only 21% support career aspirations or professionals job goals.

7. Don't leave me hanging...

More often than not, managers are role models for the rest of their teams, and in particular for new employees. Managers' influence over the latter can play an important role in their professional development.

“31% say that training support from their managers is critical to a smooth online learning experience.”

No matter how eager to learn employees may be, they will deflate their motivation and ignore learning opportunities if they sense any negative vibe from their manager towards company training.

At the same time, only 1 in 5 L&D leaders equip line managers with tools and resources to support their team.

8. Sharing is caring

The 70:20:10 model is more present in today's workplace organizations than ever before. Up to 90% of learning comes form on the job experience and social interaction. The chemistry between people at work is the pixie dust for competitive companies. Whenever team members collaborate with each other, something magic happens and the project they're working only moves forward.

“77% of employees say that working in collaboration with other team members was essential to learn what they needed to do their job and 84% are willing to share knowledge through technology.”

However, only half of L&D leaders include communities of practice in their offerings and a shockingly small 11% encourage staff to solve problems socially together.

9. I want recognition!

Disengagement is an evil villain and wants to conquer every office in WorkplaceVille; only one superhero can make sure that won't happen: Recognition to the rescue!

From a pat on the back for a job well done to a promotion, employees need recognition in order to stay engaged with their work and training.

“57% want learning to contribute towards a qualification or certification.”

A certification for completing a training course is somewhat closer to a pat on the back that to a promotion, and it is one of those rather small things that can have a great impact over an employee's morale.

However, only 22% of L&D leaders recognize learners' knowledge acquisition formally.

10. Treat me right

The "give, give, give" and "take, take, take" between a company and its workforce should be more like "give, take, give, take", no matter from what side one looks at it. Successful L&D teams understand their learners' needs and strive to offer the best conditions for development.

“High performing L&D teams are twice as likely to report benefits of their learning strategy.”

By supporting staff in their careers, offer constructive feedback and facilitate collaboration, as well as using technology as an enabler to transform people and organizations, successful L&D teams make contribute to the overall happiness of their companies.

Remember that: