Posted On December 5, 2017 By Stephen De Kalb

With Australia’s unemployment rate falling recently to 5.6 percent, the lowest it’s been in years, you’d think everyone would be pleased about that aspect of our economy.

But not necessarily if you’re in Human Resources.

Low unemployment is a double-edged sword: good news for the economy but bad news for HR professionals who face increased competition when recruiting and retaining top talent. While it’s true attracting and keeping the best talent is (and always will be) a priority for HR professionals, their ability to keep employees happy becomes hugely more important in times of low unemployment.

And urgent. Look no further than any survey, article or conference focused on the challenges facing today’s HR industry, and I’ll bet you’ll find the terms “war for talent”, “talent retention”, or both.

Luckily, we know a thing or two about what attracts workers to organisations and what keeps them there, and we know that new hires and long-time employees alike are drawn to organisations for the same reasons.

Remuneration is tops, of course, but which is a challenge for HR teams tasked with attracting and keeping workers while, at the same time, maintaining low operating costs.

An organisation’s culture, brand reputation, corporate social responsibility, flexible work arrangements, career path, employee recognition programs, workers’ benefits, and prospects for travel are also important – some more than others.

A common thread that runs through all of the above, however, is not about money. Instead, it’s how engaged employees are with the business.

Rules of engagement

Employees who are engaged feel empowered, valued and supported. They are happier and more productive. They tell their friends about what a great place they work at, and customers, job hunters, investors and other stakeholders soon catch on.

The lower the levels of employee engagement, on the other hand, the more an organisation struggles to keep star performers and attract the best new recruits. It’s then only a matter of time before morale and productivity sink, attrition rates rise, innovation evaporates and customers look elsewhere.

Giving employees learning and development opportunities demonstrates the business supports and values them. That makes L&D an engagement tool in its own right, and – here’s the rub – one that increases every employee’s chances to be paid more and promoted more often.

Of course, organisations invest in staff development for more than altruistic reasons. Well-skilled employees are more efficient and motivated, which leads to an improved culture, higher levels of workplace innovation, enhanced brand reputation, reduced attrition rates and associated recruitment costs, a sharper competitive edge and, at the heart of the matter, a better, sustainable bottom-line. Without a genuine focus on employee learning and development, and an understanding of the fundamental role it plays in employee engagement, organisations simply can’t keep up with change, meaning their strategies will fail and their profits will fall.

Are you building employee engagement?

Given the truth of all this, it’s amazing how many organisations treat L&D as a cost centre, not an investment. A discretionary budget that’s among the first to be cut in times of need. As a “tick in the box” instead of a critical organisational enabler. As a knee-jerk reaction to a problem rather than a strategy for success.

If that’s yours, here’s a quick checklist to gauge where your L&D spend is building employee engagement, and where maybe it’s not.

  • Are your brand values at the heart of everything you do? There’s a good chance your organisation’s internal brand and values are held out for employees to, hopefully, relate to and engage with. If not, you’ve got real problems – but even if they are, are they also woven into the fabric of learning opportunities you provide employees? Even more, are they turned into performance goals?
  • What does your learning culture look like? It should be strong, and by that I mean in synch with your business objectives and other employee engagement strategies such as rewards and recognition programs. For example, if a business goal is to develop innovation as a competitive advantage, you need a learning culture that supports that by involving and listening to team members, responding to them, curating their great ideas and then sharing and celebrating them – in other words, a learning culture that engages with employees.
  • Are you investing in leaders and managers? At every organisational level, managers can make or break employee morale and productivity. Because of this, managers and supervisors must be given regular, ongoing opportunities to develop and hone the practical skills their roles require. Plus, leadership training is a triple feel-good whammy – while fine-tuning business performance at a molecular level, it also reinforces the culture of engagement and empowerment you’re after and, thirdly, future-proofs the organisation for the inescapable challenges it will likely face in the months and years ahead.
  • Do you treat your learners like consumers? Increasingly, employees are searching out and choosing content for themselves, and learning in ways that were difficult to foresee a few short years ago. Today they want learning content delivered to them that are relevant, meaningful, timely and, ultimately, useful when and where they need them. L&D teams can no longer roll out vanilla training, either classroom- or digital-based, and must now filter, recommend, personalise and deliver learning interventions that meet the preferences and needs of a modern workforce.
  • Have you gone social? Employees are engaged when they’re encouraged to get involved, collaborate, support, and seek support. As with treating learners like consumers, this means social learning platforms and strategies are ideal for informal learning, so if your learning culture doesn’t include online communities and discussions, start going social today. And don’t forget that like any consumers, social learners are driven by shares, likes and comments, so be sure you have learning resources available to create staff engagement that’s sticky.

No silver bullet

It’s not easy to build and maintain a learning culture that raises employee engagement and performance, but if you keep an eye on your organisation’s business and cultural goals, make learning engaging and, importantly, measurable, and remain strictly focused on skills improvement you’re off to a good start.

So is leveraging your subject matter experts and learning/leadership champions. And always asking for feedback, because every employee is different and their reasons for joining, thriving or leaving will be different and may change over time.

Do these things and your reward will be a business culture of empowerment and true collaboration.

But remember: there’s much about building employee engagement that doesn’t require employers to beef up employees’ pay packets with yet more money. What that is – and how it can add profit to the organisation’s bottom line – is what characterises the business that can succeed in every kind of economy.

We can help. TP3’s been designing proven learning and development programs for more than three decades, so we know how to meet the unique learning outcomes of individuals and organisations alike. That includes building leadership skills, high-performing teams and learning cultures for sustainable success. Check out the industry’s widest portfolio of learning services and solutions at www.TP3.com.au or chat to your TP3 Client Manager.