Employers often seek the best employee benefits that improve recruitment efforts and boost employee morale. When these benefits also positively impact productivity, they’re a win-win for workers and employers.
No benefit does a better job of checking these boxes than professional development opportunities for your employees. Examples of development opportunities include online learning platforms, paid junkets to seminars and workshops, and employer-sponsored schooling.
When businesses invest in employee training, employees can grow their skills and pursue professional goals while integrating new knowledge and skills into their day-to-day work responsibilities. We’ll explore professional development in the workplace, how it benefits employers and employees, and how you can incorporate these programs into your small business.
What is professional development in the workplace?
Employees are constantly growing once they begin their designated role at your small business. It’s a company’s responsibility to help facilitate that growth and ensure its workers are afforded the opportunities to advance professionally.
This isn’t just about providing avenues for promotion or traditional advancement. It means giving your workers the tools they need to learn and grow. By prioritizing the long game with your workers, you can foster a dynamic work environment where employees aren’t content with remaining stagnant.
Professional development should introduce employees to new skills while honing existing hard and soft skills in the workplace. The program should be oriented around your company’s overall mission to create an environment where all workers move toward a common end goal.
Keep in mind that many companies funnel money into employee development programs. However, if you don’t coordinate your development strategy around shared goals that align with your business’s overall mission, you may end up with employees who feel forced to sit through boring “advancement” seminars.
Bottom line: The key to building a professional development program within your organization is to tailor it to each employee and align it with your company’s overall mission.
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What are some popular professional development benefits?
Professional development opportunities include online learning, workplace-hosted events, offsite seminars and workshops, and memberships to professional organizations. Professional development can also include employer support for schooling costs.
Access to new skill sets
“Today’s employees are unmistakably anxious to learn and get new skills, and the appropriation of innovation to empower employees’ learning enables associations to lift worker bliss while enhancing their capacity to hold ability,” said Alley Jones, technical writer for SysTools.
Many employers also offer access to online learning platforms, such as Lynda or Degreed. These platforms allow employees to guide their learning with preset pathways while also allowing managers to create pathways to help employees grow in their organizational roles. They typically include reward or gamification opportunities to incentivize learning.
According to the 2020 Employee Benefits Report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the most common types of educational and professional development opportunities employers offer include professional organization memberships, offsite events, and workplace training or courses.
Cost savings through tuition reimbursement
Another common professional development benefit is tuition reimbursement. In a survey of 2,000 employees conducted by Better Buys, 53% of respondents had access to tuition reimbursement programs sponsored by their employer. Employers can obtain a tax write-off for up to $5,250 of educational assistance benefits per employee every year. Employees save on educational costs and may consider the savings a major perk of working for a company.
In exchange for a potentially reduced salary, you can entice the right talent by advertising the tuition reimbursement plan to prospective job candidates. Not all candidates may take advantage of the tuition reimbursement plan, but they will appreciate that it’s available to them.
“Regardless of how you plan to make continued education a part of your business growth, you need to do it,” Jones said. “Investing in your employees is one of the best ways to show you care about them personally.”
Tip: As part of a successful hiring process, craft a clear and specific job description, identify promising internal candidates, and contact references early in the process.
How does professional development benefit employers?
There are three significant ways professional development opportunities benefit employers. They help employers recruit new employees and retain their existing employees, and they help employees cultivate skills that will be used for the company’s benefit.
1. Education programs are a recruitment perk.
Aaron Filous, CEO of Promotable, said that in an environment where employees move from job to job quickly, professional development opportunities are an attractive draw for new talent.
“Whether an employee stays for decades or not, offering continuing education is still worth it,” Filous said. “It is a nice perk for recruiting that shows the company cares about the employee’s growth, and even if the employee is only there for a couple of years, it’s better to have more highly skilled employees for the same price.”
In SHRM’s report, 48% of HR professionals cited training and education programs as the most effective recruiting tool at their disposal. The Better Buys survey found that 78% of respondents currently have access to professional development, while 92% believe access is important or very important.
According to the survey results, employees with access to professional development opportunities are 15% more engaged in their jobs, which led to a 34% higher retention rate. This means those employees are more productive day to day and less likely to quit their positions, which saves employers an average turnover cost of six to nine months of an employee’s salary.
“Hiring is expensive and time-consuming,” Filous said. “It is often easier and cheaper to retain your own talent or hire from within. Training or upskilling employees opens an additional talent pool for the employer that they already had.”
Did you know? The primary four recruiting models are traditional recruiting, outsourced recruiting, light internal recruiting and heavy internal recruiting.
2. Development programs boost employee retention.
Professional development gives your current workers an extra reason to stay on the job; it’s a way to empower your staff. Every professional development opportunity you provide allows employees to enhance their resumes and gain the skills to advance into another position within your business. Instead of hiring externally, you can promote someone already familiar with the company.
One of the most significant reasons employees stay because of professional development is that it makes them feel valued. Your employees will be pleased that you’re investing in their future. Instead of looking elsewhere for advancement, they may remain loyal to your business. Employee morale improves when they can expand their skill sets and add more value to their resumes.
FYI: Another morale-boosting perk is flextime, because it gives employees the autonomy to create a work schedule that leads to a better work-life balance.
3. Professional development cultivates hard and soft skills.
Professional development is a clear benefit to employees who want to improve their skills and value in the marketplace. It can help them earn a promotion internally or continue pursuing their career goals elsewhere, as their marketability to employers increases. However, it is also a boon for employers, who reap the benefits of a more skilled, satisfied workforce and an attractive tool for drawing in new, intrinsically motivated employees.
Professional development helps employees stay on top of new skills, especially in the tech field. Technology evolves at a lightning-fast pace, and it’s essential to train staff on the latest programs and tools. Employer-sponsored professional development opportunities are the definition of a win-win.
Tip: To identify a leader in your organization, observe their character and work ethic, test them out in a small leadership role, and get recommendations from co-workers.
3 types of professional development programs employees want
It’s essential to understand the types of programs and opportunities your workers want to utilize. By communicating directly with employees, you can build a program that works for everyone. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Online training sessions and webinars
In the age of the Zoom call, online training is likely one of the most common professional development opportunities. These sessions come with many advantages, including the ability to track employee progress directly. Online training sessions are often a low-cost, time-sensitive training approach, as workers can attend online sessions as their schedule permits.
The downside to online training and webinar learning is that it’s hard to connect directly with employees. While a guest speaker or presenter may convey important information, sometimes the most effective way to work with employees is to do so on a personal level.
Manager coaching and mentorship
Manager mentorship is arguably the most effective professional development method, allowing teams to grow closer while employees advance their skill sets and careers.
While online training sessions can act as a one-size-fits-all solution to professional development, manager mentorship provides specific, targeted development to employees on an individual level. This means employees feel heard on important issues and are given career direction inside and beyond the organization.
By prioritizing manager coaching, you ensure your workers’ professional development opportunities are being met. The biggest challenge with this type of development, however, is making sure you have excellent managers in place to provide the coaching.
Bottom line: To improve relationships between managers and employees, promote a culture of workplace cooperation, bring teams together through incentives and rewards, and listen closely to feedback.
Stretch assignments are a hands-on career development tool that can challenge employees, push managers to work closely with their teams and ensure your business moves in the right direction.
It’s easy for workers to lose focus when they grow stagnant and perform the same duties day in and day out. When given a chance to “stretch” their abilities, employees can learn and grow while showing management they have the initiative and ability to contribute more meaningfully to the organization.
The downside to stretch assignments is that they are energy-intensive for both the employee and the manager mentoring the project. To set up the employee for success, it’s essential to ensure the stretch assignment aligns with the employee’s skill set and that you give them enough time to plan and complete the project. It’s also helpful to give the employee access to resources and team support.
Adam Uzialko contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.