Special Reports
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Learning in an employee-first workplace

In today’s fast-paced workplace, employees and employers alike are incorporating wellbeing into day-to-day interaction

Recent years have seen a growing movement among business to consider the impact of their operations, not just in terms of maximising returns but in generating returns in a way that balances economic, environmental, social and governance goals.

Catalysed by Covid disruptions, public awareness of the importance of good workplace mental health and wellbeing continues to grow. As the first country in Europe to put in place a day devoted to workplace wellbeing, Ireland continues to lead the way.

“In the early days of the pandemic it was about how do we support people with practicalities, such as the tools to work remotely and the flexibility they needed to do it,” says Kara McGann, head of social policy at Ibec. “Then the focus was on mental health and managing it. As the lockdowns continued, the focus shifted to include social wellbeing too as over time we have seen home-working give rise to a sense of isolation, burnout, lack of morale and people feeling they were missing out.

“The social connection which brings us together and strengthens us as individuals is missing for a lot of people. And that connection strengthens the business too in terms of retention and productivity.


“That casual interaction of the office is gone. It is no longer a ‘nice to have’ now; we know it is a ‘must have’ and something we have to pay attention to, because if we don’t engagement, creativity, and innovation all suffer.”

In today’s digital, people-centric age, employee experience has become a key enabler for improving organisational performance, often now receiving more attention than the more traditional focus on satisfaction and engagement.

“Employee engagement is still important, but because this is defined as creating the psychological states and behaviours beneficial to an employer, it might not always be seen as having the employee’s best interests at heart,” says Julie Ryan, head of Customised Solutions at the Irish Management Institute. “Employee experience tends to resonate better as it moves the employee to the centre of concern and from their perspective.

“To create an exemplary employee experience, it all starts from the top. In order to be sustainable, a company’s brand must be inextricably linked to their employee experience. With probing, you can tell the difference between a company where mission, vision, and values recognise the importance of the employee versus those that haven’t found the balance.”

There are myriad ways in which employers can contribute to wellness and engagement, from webinars to informal learning sessions. For example, the term “brown bag lunches” is used to refer to a combined eating and working event, where learning and collaboration can occur in a more informal setting.

The networking opportunities presented by these events can be invaluable, often affording staff at all levels of the organisation the opportunity to share knowledge and ideas across divisions. In-person networking is a must.

Of course, providing staff with access to formalised training is another way to keep them at the top of their game and feeling fully engaged in their work.

When an organisation signs up for IMI membership, the institute becomes their business partner and not just a provider of learning gatherings. Staff from member organisations get to meet and collaborate on their own next chapters through access to webinars, masterclasses, mentoring programmes and insights, all of which work together to create best-in-class leadership experiences that lead to better opportunities.

Face-to-face networking contributes to employee wellbeing, and this is a major factor that was missed during the pandemic.

“During and as a result of the pandemic,” Ryan says, “we have seen a major upsurge in peer-to-peer learning. It seems learning has become the new setting for sense-making, problem solving and choice-making, and it’s amazing what people at all levels can resolve together.

“Bringing people together in a face-to-face or virtual setting that is structured for professionals to learn from each other and our faculty is, by far, one of the most engaging and inspiring ways to engage colleagues.”

‘Employee training is becoming less of a ‘nice to have’ and more of an essential when recruiting new staff. After all, your competitors are doing it already’

But the benefits aren’t just for the employee – the organisation itself can see huge positives from offering employee learning as part of a wider employee experience.

“This not only helps to decrease staff turnover, it attracts bright people who want to work in a company that offers the twin-track benefits of a learning pathway mapped to a career pathway.”

In a post-Covid world, employee expectations are changing, and companies will have to make decisions and changes to ensure that they are able to retain the top talent.

While many employees might be looking for perks such as remote working or flexible hours, continuous learning based on career and role aspirations is a proven retention strategy, amplifying the overall employee experience.

“When people feel like they are valued individuals and that the organisation is willing to put time and effort into equipping them with future-ready knowledge,” Ryan says, “they’re less likely to seek validation elsewhere. Employee training is becoming less of a ‘nice to have’ and more of an essential when recruiting new staff. After all, your competitors are doing it already.”