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How to motivate employees to learn

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How to motivate employees to learn

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There seem to have been no shortage of calls over the last decade or so for greater developmental opportunities to be offered to employees, with all manner of studies highlighting this as a missing link to explain partially why employee engagement is so low.

With our economy fully immersed in the knowledge age, you would think it would be an easy sell, yet there still seems to be a lack of development time or opportunities available in the workplace.

A recent study from the Haas School of Business highlights the value that employers can gain from offering a full range of training and development options to employees.

What’s more, the paper suggests that there may even be value in incentivizing the take up of training.

“In a constantly changing work environment, workers must commit and continue to participate in training in order to stay relevant and competitively employable,” the authors say.

The paper highlights the dilemma of many small and medium sized organizations, who want the best talent, but often lack the resources to offer the kind of training and development that can help produce that talent internally.

Thus, many turn to external providers to deliver the training, and hope that their employees are sufficiently self-motivated to get the most out of the program.

From an employees perspective, the authors suggest that motivation, and therefore participation, is often low because the training is often done at their own discretion, all of which leaves a potentially crucial skills gap for employer and employee alike.

Providing an initial prod

The authors found however that employees could be convinced to embrace long-term training if they were incentivized in the right way.

They discovered that any incentive should be presented as a form of reimbursement so as to soak up any expenses incurred as part of the training.  This kind of framing was much more successful than when it was presented as a simple cash reward for enrollment.

The theory was tested on around 4,000 employees.  Each was given a one-off payment of $60 to sign up for a couple of two day courses within the next four months (each course cost $30).

Half of the group were told this was simply a cash reward for taking the course, whilst the other half were told it was to reimburse them for the cost of the training.

In both cases, the money was only given to them if they completed both of the courses within the four month time frame.

The results revealed that the employees who had received the one-off payment were six times more likely to complete the course than the employees who didn’t receive any incentive.

When the employees were tracked for a further nine months however, differences began to emerge.  During this follow up period no further incentives were offered, but whereas those who were reimbursed continued their development, those who were simply rewarded did not.

“While managers and policy makers know that incentives can motivate workers, many are not aware of the importance of incorporating psychological techniques into the design of an effective incentive program,” the authors conclude.

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