Harmonizing Learner Engagement and Employee Engagement

Leading organizations excel by leveraging both learner engagement and employee engagement to improve workplace performance.

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Why Engagement Matters

The extent to which people working in organizations are engaged has attracted a lot of attention from educationalists and organizational psychologists in the last several years. Researchers continue to investigate the relationship between the level of engagement and factors such as productivity, efficiency, innovativeness and employee attrition.

In the field of training, it pays to differentiate between two kinds of engagement. These two types of engagement are commonly referred to as "learner engagement" and "employee engagement". The two types are interrelated in interesting ways that impact the extent to which training programs are successful in achieving their objectives. How they interact determines the value an organization gets from spending time and money on designing and rolling out its training programs.

Two Types of Engagement

Let us start with defining "learner engagement". What is referred to as "learner engagement" is typically described as the extent to which a learner internalizes their desire to learn, not relying on external motivators such as competition and assessment results. Engaged learners feel responsible for their own learning and actively look for opportunities to improve their learning. A sign that a learner is engaged is that they are not content to satisfy the minimum requirements for participation in the training program, but will make a concerted effort to seek out new opportunities and expand and deepen their learning. Not only do engaged learners learn more, they can be more effective in the workplace following training. They have a stronger propensity to try out new skills back on the job and have a higher degree of tolerance for organizational barriers preventing the application of their learning.

What we call "employee engagement", on the other hand, is the extent to which an employee feels an emotional connection with their job and their organization. Engaged employees are more motivated through finding their work personally fulfilling and meaningful. A common measure of the degree to which an employee is engaged is how much discretionary effort they apply to their job. Discretionary effort is the effort that is expended by an employee over and above that which is required to just get by.

Not surprisingly, researchers have found a significant relationship between the degree of employee engagement and the level of employee productivity and organizational performance. To find out more, look up the work of leading researchers in this area. These include Gallup Consulting, Towers Perrin, Hewitt Associates, Blessing White and the Corporate Leadership Council.

The Relationship between Learner Engagement and Employee Engagement

The relevance of the two types of engagement – learner engagement and employee engagement – for employee training is clear. To begin with, an engaged employee is more likely to try to apply their new skills in their work following a training course. They will also make an effort to overcome roadblocks to application put before them.

As it turns out, each type of engagement influences the other. In that respect, they are codependent. A disengaged employee arriving at a training session is less likely to become an engaged learner. The cards are stacked against them. On the other hand, an engaged employee is already primed to take an interest in what their organization has to offer to help them improve their effectiveness. They are more likely to become an engaged learner.

Looking from inside the training room, if a skilled trainer can successfully enthuse a nonchalant participant, that employee is more likely to want to apply the skills to the benefit of the organization. Increasing learner engagement helps to increase employee engagement – at least in the short-term.

On the other hand, an initially engaged employee attending a training program that is not relevant, is conducted by an incompetent trainer and takes them away from a crushing workload is less likely to return to work with amiable feelings toward their employer. Poor learner engagement resulting from poor quality training can lead to decreased employee engagement.

Where an employee does return to work with an increased level of engagement, what happens next is critically important. The organization can capitalize on this increased enthusiasm by ensuring that the workplace environment is conducive to the employee trying out their new skills on the job. Or it can confuse, deflate and frustrate the employee until their initial passion is squeezed out of them. We encourage you to use our structured PRACTICE Approach™ to channel the employee's interest into improving their workplace performance.

Best of breed organizations have successfully removed any discordant elements between learner engagement and employee engagement. They have learned how to harmonize the two types of engagement and, in doing so, have reinforced each other. Getting the relationship between the two kinds of engagement wrong can lead to a downward spiral in employee motivation. Getting it right leverages each one against the other to form a self-supporting scaffold from which to raise employee morale and job effectiveness.

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Find out more about what you can do to engage learners and create the right work environment for learning application. Check out Leslie Allan's practical resource kit packed with ideas, tools and templates for implementing effective learning. Download the free Introductory Chapter and start using Leslie's comprehensive training guide and toolkit today.

From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance

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