Guest Blogger

Most organisations would nowadays agree this is no more ‘job for life’, yet when it comes to HR the way things are done (recruitment, performance management) doesn’t match this new reality. I won’t explore all aspects of HR but am choosing for the sake of illustration and brevity the example of L&D.

According to Forbes, by 2020, 50% of people in the US will freelance, yet many of us are not adequately or mentally prepared for the shifts expected.  Schools at no stage teach us about how to find jobs to suit our skills/interests and organisations don’t often prepare us and skill us up for roles outside of the organization!

Many employees know that they need to learn and adapt – 57% of them are going outside of the organisation to invest their own time and money in their own learning and development to help prepare them for their ‘next step’. (1). This alone gives a strong indication of the strength of the learning drive – what it also shows us is organisations do not and cannot possibly provide all the learning needs of their employees.

What does that change in L&D look like?  I don’t believe it has to be complicated or difficult – I do however think it needs to be radical and brave.  I believe the way forward and a model which will become increasingly popular is that provided by Monzo bank.  In an interview with Maria Campbell the Head of People, I asked her about their employment benefit of providing people with not only their 32 days annual holiday allowance but an additional month off – unpaid to pursue their own personal development:

‘You can also take an additional month of unpaid leave each year if you wish, to work on personal projects, travel further afield, learn a new language, take an intensive pasta-making course, or something else’ – Monzo bank careers page.

When I pointed out to Maria that most organisations would baulk at the idea of offering a month for people to do ‘whatever they want’ she was fairly relaxed about this, largely because they trust their employees.  Maria explains: “people can take the time off and we support that, but they do have to make sure their work responsibilities are covered”.  Feedback to date is largely anecdotal, but the popularity of the policy and the fact it hasn’t been abused helps reinforce the notion they’re onto a winner.  The queue of people outside the door applying for jobs isn’t bad evidence either!  Giving people the flexibility and autonomy they need to live lives which will (in all likelihood) extend beyond their time at Monzo is what this policy is driving at and it is a stark contrast to what many L&D departments currently provide.  Maria acknowledges there are no jobs for life – so why would the L&D efforts of organisations not encourage people to pursue their own learning agenda?  Like most organisations, Monzo does pay for work related training needs; however, it doesn’t pay for the training employees undertake as part of their unpaid leave (e.g the pasta making course, or taking a month off to learn a language in a foreign country).  This therefore isn’t about increasing cost.  It’s about understanding the needs of today’s employees and building a culture which supports them.  Given not many corporates want or need the burden of employees for life why aren’t they more open minded about offering the space and time for employees to meet their own learning needs which would in effect help the natural attrition many firms rely on?

An honest appraisal of what L&D can deliver also means looking at what it CAN’T deliver. If someone has it in mind to leave an organisation it is very often not because the organisation has done anything wrong: our motivations and drives change over time.  One of the best theories of what drives human behaviour is by Lawrence and Nohria (2002) in which they suggest there are four fundamental drivers to human behaviour.

  • A drive to acquire (money, status, reputation),
  • A drive to bond (marriage, friendship, networking),
  • A drive to learn (curiosity, seeking knowledge, asking questions but also legacy leaving – giving something back)
  • A drive to defend (which kicks in when our assets are threatened: e.g buying insurance to protect our valuables or feeling angry when someone flirts with our partners).(2)

Think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs but with less emphasis on the hierarchy.  It is no accident people who volunteer and work in charities tend to be older: this reflects the context of their lives.  More often than not, people who volunteer can afford to and feel in a position to ‘give back’ because their drive to acquire has largely been met.  If someone relocates to a new part of the country/world, they’ll concentrate on their drive to bond and building up new acquaintances.  When you’ve done a job to a point where the drive to learn has been fully met – it is simply time to move on.  The carrot of learning new things and facing new challenges is a big pull and one which organisations underutilise.  When I used to work as Global Head of recruitment for a strategy consulting firm, it was widely acknowledged what the deal was: ‘come here for a few years, kill yourself with stupid hours and then you’ll be in a position to leave and get one of these great jobs’ – at which point the CEO or other senior partner would flip to a slide with some very impressive job titles (e.g COO, Coca Cola, CFO Easyjet etc..).  They knew people viewed them as a stepping stone, so rather than underplay the reality, they played up to it.  Do your own thought experiment:  which organisation’s L&D strategy sounds better to you:

Company A: We encourage you to learn and pursue your passion.  We’ll give you time and space of up to an additional month a year (unpaid) to use or not – it’s totally up to you.

Company B:  We invest in your learning and development, but only if what you want to learn is directly relevant to your current job.  You’ll need to apply and build the case….

In a world where we are all living longer and where developments in technology will mean significant change for many jobs, I’d argue the concern and the fear people have about their longer term futures is not only real, but one which employers have a duty to acknowledge and help people navigate.

Lucy Standing

Lucy is Vice Chair of the Association for Business Psychology and founder of a start up ViewVo – a service which helps organisations making employees redundant connect them with chances to shadow their ‘dream’ job for a day.

  1. Toward Maturity – The consumer learner at work – 2016 (log in to TM to download a copy)
  2. ‘Driven’. P Lawrence & N Nohria, 2002. Harvard Business School.

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