Recently, I read a Wall Street Journal article that explored the new perks that companies are introducing to keep their largely remote workforces engaged and connected. Under the premise that online trivia nights and virtual happy hours are not enough to keep employees, especially Millennial and Gen Z professionals, engaged, some organizations have begun to introduce more unusual perks and activities, ranging from the merely different to the outrageous; ukulele-building classes, virtual cocktail making lessons, murder mystery games, standup comics, sending employees goodie baskets and virtual wine tastings are all mentioned.
I’m a corporate trainer and a former Chief Human Resources Officer as well as a Professor of Human Capital Management at Columbia University. Here’s an offering that is neither new nor exotic but one that will be of value by your employees while also empowering them to meaningfully interact with each other and ultimately add even more value to the company: training. Employees want help to improve their performance and develop and advance their careers. As we move to more virtual offices, they not only want but need the skills to manage their career in a remote working environment—skills such as virtual influencing, active listening, career management, personal branding and negotiating just to name a few.
According to a recent survey by benefits consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, the number one reason why employees leave companies is a perceived lack of "opportunities to learn new skills." Pizza parties – whether in person or virtual – have their place; they can make work more pleasant and fun, plus they offer opportunities for employees to interact organically and build camaraderie. But they don’t have a long-lasting impact on engagement. Since they are easily replicated by your competition, they offer no real competitive advantage to employer.
Instead, consider offering training that will help employees become better at their jobs and help them advance their careers. Training not only is valued by the employees but it sends an important message to employees in times of uncertainty. It signals to employees that the organization is in it with them for the long run. Companies do not train employees that they do not expect to be part of the organization over the long term. That, in addition to the actual value the employees receive from the training, is an important message they need to hear.
As we move to more virtual offices, they not only want but need the skills to manage their career in a remote working environment—skills such as virtual influencing, active listening, career management, personal branding and negotiating just to name a few."
In the past six months, I, along with countless other peers, have moved in-person educational offerings online and have become quite skilled at online instruction. Training in the areas such as leadership, influencing, negotiating, innovation or working effectively in a virtual setting would not only be valuable but would be welcome by your employees. Companies seeking to be more inclusive of women, people of color, LGBT+ people, people with disabilities and other minorities should explore offering training that will equip them with techniques to take greater control over their careers – topics such as personal branding, career management, negotiating and influencing.
In business, we are always looking for what is new and different. Sometimes, however, what is new and different may attract attention, but it is not what is ultimately valued. I would suggest that couldn’t be more true as employees continue to grapple with the physical, economic and social threats of COVID-19. But just as before this pandemic, your employees want to be able to continue to learn and grow in their careers. Offering them impactful training online and safely in person (small class, socially distanced) will not only help you to retain and motivate your employees, but it will help to position your organization for success in the current and post-COVID-19.
Training not only is valued by the employees but it sends an important message to employees in times of uncertainty. It signals to employees that the organization is in it with them for the long run."