Professional development is critical for your business. According to a LinkedIn study, a staggering 93% of employees would stay in their jobs longer if their company invested in career development and advancement.1 However, 68% of employees indicated that their managers were not engaged in their career development.2 Employees who are not progressing within a company will be less engaged, have lower morale, and their productivity can drop significantly.
Professional growth comes in many forms, but the traditional avenues — workshops, seminars, conferences, continuing education, etc. — can be expensive, take employees away from time at work, and frankly, employees may find them downright boring. Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives to these typical forms of employee development.
Personal development and professional development are closely tied. Whether your office comes together to volunteer as a group or you simply give employees time to complete volunteer projects, doing good can lead to personal growth and maturity. Volunteering requires a person to look outside their personal goals and focus on a larger picture. It also teaches humility, teamwork, and can inspire a change in their point of view. At work, employees who volunteer will focus more on the company goals than their own personal goals. A spirit of altruism can also impact the office morale, better align workers with company values, and translate into better relationships between employees and clients.
Continuing education is often considered necessary for professional growth, but with a wealth of knowledge available at the local bookstore, there are alternatives to sending your employees back to school. From books on management and leadership to books on self-care and maintaining a work/life balance, you can stock a free company library with volumes of good advice and chances for professional growth. With a free little library, employees can borrow a book, take it home to read, and return it for the next person when they’re done. Choose books that reflect your company values and philosophies. Ask employees what their favorite business books are or ones that they recommend to others. Give a good variety of topics, authors, and reading levels. You could even set up a program to reward workers based on how many of the books they read each year.
Employees can learn a lot from other employees and managers. Assign your staff “office buddies” as a form of mentoring and training. Match employees from different departments or with diverse duties. Employees will learn more when they are completing novel tasks that challenge them and are different from their everyday duties. Pairing low or mid-level employees with managers and higher-ups will inspire employees to work harder and reach for those positions. You can also designate a few days each month or quarter for job shadowing. Job shadowing allows employees a chance to see the larger operation of the company. They may discover a position they are better suited for. Or they may learn how to cover another employee’s work while that person is away. Shadowing another employee is a great option for professional development.
It may sound counterintuitive to give employees free time at work, but unbinding employees from creative constraints can have a surprising impact. Set aside an hour or two each month for employees to work on their own development. Build it into the workday and ensure that workers are not completing their regular tasks during this time. Employees could take this time to pitch a project or idea not related to their current assignments. They could watch TED talks or read a book from the free little library you set up. They could also use this as catch-up time with their office buddy. At the end of this free time, gather employees together to share what they learned. Everyone will have a different idea of what professional development means to them. Allowing free time lets them choose how they want to grow.
Perhaps one of the best (and most underutilized) forms of personal and professional development is travel. Foreign travel often requires communication with non-English speakers, necessitating creative problem-solving and diplomacy. Employees must learn collaboration to have coworkers cover their work while they are out of the office. And time management is critical for travelers who need to catch flights or get in all their sightseeing. No matter where your employees choose to go, they will grow personally and professionally.
To reap the benefits of travel, employees must have the means and opportunity. If you choose to include travel in your professional development plans for employees, consider switching to an unlimited PTO policy or add benefits like Taab which helps employees save for and plan their travel. While a vacation may seem like a time to relax and get away from work, the skills your employees learn from traveling will translate positively back into your business.
When you take the time to support professional and personal development, it can prepare employees for higher roles in your company as well as improve efficiency and proficiency in their current duties. Employees will be able to cover for their coworkers when they are on vacation or in the event someone leaves the company. Employees who feel supported in their goals will stay in their jobs longer and their happiness will add to your company’s good reputation as a leader in your industry. Ditch the boring professional development of the past and give employees new and novel ways to reach their professional goals.
Originally published at taabcard.com on January 1, 2019.