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September is Learning and Development Month, which means we should reflect closely on our lifetime pursuit of knowledge, and how we carry it on as adults. Continuing education today can be as simple as a webinar offered by a professional organization, or as intensive as the pursuit of a degree from a university . For adults, there’s no yellow bus and mandatory attendance rule when it comes to education, but it’s still essential, and often required to earn or maintain licenses or professional certifications.

When an employee decides to keep learning and growing in their skills, employers might worry they’re going to lose key talent when the employee is a more attractive candidate to the competition. However, studies have shown financial and cultural returns for business owners who support continuing employee education, specifically in reduced turnover and increased promotion from within.1

Here’s a list of some tried and true strategies business owners and human resource professionals can use to support their growing talent base, however they choose to go out and learn.

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Scheduling

When employers hear flexible scheduling, their mind usually jumps to allowing employees to work from home. It’s true, today 40% more companies make working from home an option in 2017 than did 5 years ago. However, only 7% actually make it available to a majority of employees.2 Each company’s culture is different, and telecommuting simply may not be feasible for your team. That’s where a comprehensive PTO plan brings returns and lets employees plan for time off to learn, whether they need an extra-long lunch to wrap up an online webinar or an afternoon to listen to a panel of experts share insights.

Around 16 to 20 days of PTO a year is the general standard for new employees.3 Because some obligations or opportunities can pop up without much notice, make a same-day time off policy that is understood by all employees.

Let Them Teach

The new skills and ideas your employee is learning will not only help them grow, they can also be shared with the rest of the team in some cases. Peer teaching has been shown in many studies to improve a student’s retention of information and their performance on later tests. By one study’s account, “When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively, and they had better memory for especially important information.”4

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However, it’s also important to make sure the employee doing the instructing has their own firm command of the material, especially if they’re teaching something like a new software or giving insight into cutting edge material they read about. Discretion must be used to determine when and in what subjects this would be best for everyone.

Studies show financial and cultural returns for employers who support their employees in returning to school.

If the skills are highly practical, maybe the resident expert should coach only a few staff members. In other cases, presentations or trainings for the whole team about more high-level skills, strategies, or data might be more appropriate. If only one person is able to attend an industry conference, for instance, asking them to summarize their key takeaways for the whole team can give everyone a benefit.

 

Nurture the Benefits

A team member’s pursuit of further education, whether in practical skills or abstract theory, can have big payoffs for you and your company. In 2014,5 the health insurance company Cigna sought to quantify the ROI on the last three years of their Educational Reimbursement Program. They had an intuitive sense that the program was of assistance to their employees, but no hard data to support that opinion. After completing the research, the study showed that Cigna had a 129% ROI, essentially meaning that for every $1 the company invested into employees’ educational pursuits, they received back the full $1 and avoided $1.29 in talent management costs. These would include things like turnover, which was reduced by a stunning 8%.

These kind of cost-saving benefits are available to small businesses, even those without a huge budget. Increasingly affordable learning alternatives like industry certification courses or free webinars mean you may not have to invest anything at all for your employees to learn something new and feel excited about applying it to their role at your company. One of the biggest ways an employer or HR department can support their staff in continuing education is simply by encouraging them to seek it out.

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Also, make sure to recognize when an employee has learned something or grown professionally: 74% of employees surveyed by Globoforce who hadn't celebrated accomplishments with their co-workers said they were more likely to leave their jobs. Sometimes a little recognition of success goes a long way toward encouraging more.6

Learning new skills and information is essential to every person’s continual development, but helping your employees apply and benefit from that new knowledge is just as critical. A small business’ support of employee continuing education doesn’t have to be characterized by sweeping gestures, as long as certain cultural elements like communication and accountability are prioritized by the whole team. With flexible schedule options, team members brushing up on old skills or learning new ones will feel less stressed and more engaged. They’ll be able to reinforce their learning by teaching new skills or information to coworkers. As a result, your business will see less employee turnover and internally nurture future leaders. If you show employees support and care as they learn, their growth also becomes yours.