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Janice Burns


Chief People Officer

Read more from Janice Burns

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The new social contract: Rethinking L&D to make work ‘work’ for your employees

Is it time for L&D to strategise its career development offerings to help boost employee expectations?
Giant beetles converging in wood

There is no such thing as a free lunch, at least not in today’s workplaces. Employees want far more than the traditional perks that have become the mainstay of every hip, fun employer. No more free fruit, lunches or even gym memberships. Instead, employees have re-imagined how to make work ‘work’ for them, and that has given rise to a new social contract between employers and their employees. 

For learning leaders, it’s essential to understand the shift that’s occurred in the expectations of employees

Part of this was driven by the huge shifts created by the Covid-19 pandemic, hybrid work and global lockdowns. Since then, a range of societal shifts like ‘quiet quitting’ and the ongoing Twitter fiasco, have placed the employee/employer relationship front and centre. 

It’s about time as, according to Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice in Organisational Behaviour, London Business School: “Our ideas of how work should be performed were formed during the Industrial Revolution and we haven’t really moved on since then, so this is a fantastic chance to revise that”.

Shaping the new employee experience

For learning leaders, it’s essential to understand the shift that’s occurred in the expectations of employees. Because learning can play a critical role in shaping the kind of experience that today’s employees want – plus, understanding learners better is a tenet of personalised learning. 

The new social contract is more expansive than the ones before. Whereas before, the relationship centred on financial security and climbing the career ladder, now it is more purpose-driven, about individual belonging, and looks at the social impact of an individual’s work. The World Economic Forum’s Good Work Framework sets out five objectives for employers to focus on to create ‘good work’: 

  1. Fair pay and social justice
  2. Flexibility and protection
  3. Health and wellbeing
  4. Driving diversity, equity and inclusion
  5. Employability and learning culture

Employees will remember how they felt when it mattered most in their career journey

Learning touches everything

Learning plays a role in every part of this. So learning leaders need to understand how it impacts every part of the organisation, from onboarding to compliance-based learning, to succession planning, stretch assignments and progression. 

  • When they onboard, learning gets them up to speed with their job and company culture, so they can begin producing results more quickly. Furthermore, learning helps them feel embedded and essential to the organisation from the get-go
  • Compliance-based learning around anti-corruption, cybersecurity, ethics, anti-bias and more means they meet the minimum requirements to perform well, with integrity and fairness, in your organisation. This links with the first objective in the Good Work Framework
  • The next stage ties closely with the Good Work Framework objective for employability and learning culture – fostering a sense of belonging through strengthening existing skills, aligning learning with the business (showing someone they’re having an impact) and career planning 
  • Then you have growing people’s careers in a way that’s purposeful and fulfilling for them. This includes strengthening your leadership bench, developing functional expertise (department-specific skills) and transformational skills (which right now centre around digital skills like eCommerce, coding, data analytics and cloud computing)
  • The final pieces of the puzzle involve rewarding people for continuous learning, with stretch assignments, badges and credentials, and lateral career opportunities (roles and projects in other departments) 

Enhancing the learning experience 

The experience people have with learning (as with all workplace processes and tools) needs to be a great one. Employees will remember how they felt when it mattered most in their career journey. Part of creating a great employee experience is linking learning with talent acquisition and internal mobility –  giving employees the reason ‘why’ they are taking the time to do an online course or complete a stretch assignment. 

A good experience, like on the consumer side, is shaped by understanding your audience’s needs, aspirations and challenges.

Broadly speaking, you need to dig into someone’s motivations and potential obstacles to learning. For a deskless worker, that might be a lack of technology (Internet access, tablet computers, mobile devices) and time. For a working parent, time and attention will be a huge consideration. For someone who hasn’t gone to university or college, they may not feel engaged by ‘traditional’ learning. 

Expectations are changing and employees are loudly denouncing any employer who doesn’t meet their needs or goals

Knowing what makes people tick can ensure you tailor learning to meet their exact needs, at the right time, to fit their learning style and the time is now. This new learning approach will take time to implement as you work through the old processes, culture and tools that have become so embedded in every organisation.

But it needs to happen because expectations are changing and employees are loudly denouncing any employer who doesn’t meet their needs or goals. Plus, they’re leaving, and you don’t want to have a rotating door of people coming and going due to learning failures you could’ve avoided. 

Interested in this topic? Read How L&D authenticity drives engagement.

Author Profile Picture
Janice Burns

Chief People Officer

Read more from Janice Burns

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