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Sloan Center News

Training & Development Opportunities Impact Engagement

01 June 2009—According to the 2008 WorkTrends Survey, "half of workers (50%) and those looking for work say they feel as if they need more education and training, and hearly two-thirds (61%) say they would like more education and training."

In addition, according to the same survey respondents, when asked about the most effective method for preparing for the work in which they engage, “two-thirds (67%) of respondents say on-the-job training is the most effective, compared with only 30% who state that formal education in school or formal training received since completing school is most effective."

disparities in development opportunities

Being satisfied with training and development is significant. Overall satisfaction is a significant indicator of engagement in one’s job.

As our Age & Generations Study has found, individuals across age groups, career stages and life stages have different levels of satisfaction with their job training and development.

For example, among those surveyed, individuals with the least amount of job tenure (0-3 years) felt that they had greater access to learning and development opportunities, in addition to being more supported by their supervisors, than those with more than 3 years on the job.

Younger adults tended to agree/strongly agree (72%) that their companies promoted continuous learning and development while midlife adults and older adults did so to a lesser extent (62% and 63%, respectively). Similarly, Millenials/Gen Y'ers more frequently strongly agreed (37%) that their companies promoted continuous learning, as compared to Gen Xers (25%), Boomers (27%) and Traditionalists (24%).

Conversely, older workers were less likely than their younger counterparts to indicate that they receive adequate access to learning and development opportunities. Respondents aged 62 and older, for example, were more than twice as likely to somewhat disagree that their company promoted such access. However, despite potentially being more experienced, older workers in some cases still perceived themselves as being early and mid-career. That is, these same older workers expressed a desire to further grow and develop in their careers, with the potential of working far longer than traditional retirement age.

increasing engagement in economically difficult times

Now more than ever employers are increasingly seeking to optimize productivity. At the heart of this consideration is how to maximize employee engagement.

In a recent series of publications from the Age & Generations study, we have come to understand engagement as a positive, enthusiastic, and affective connection with work that motivates an employee to invest in getting the job done with vigor and passion.

Findings from the Center’s Age & Generations Study indicate that a number of significant factors are related to high levels of employee engagement. Particularly for those born between 1972 and 1980 (younger “Gen X’ers”), satisfaction with job training and development was a factor associated with higher levels of engagement. However, access to training and development opportunities is just one factor among many. Other factors include: having a workplace culture of flexibility; feeling supported by supervisors; feeling included in one’s work group; and having a perception of job security.

strategies for action

A major take-away message is that employees’ own assessments of their workplace experience can differ significantly depending upon their age, career-stage, job tenure, or dependent care status. But workplace practices may inadvertently favor one age group over another.

Enhancing engagement, then, requires a multi-tiered process.

  • A first step in enhancing engagement is to define what engagement means for your company.
  • Next, management needs to ask how engagement links strategically into 1. the overall company goals and 2. how work gets done on a daily basis. Are there any practices that might encourage or discourage employee engagement?
  • Companies need to ask whether there are sufficient practices or policies, such as annual reviews, that periodically assess the levels of employee engagement.
  • Management needs to identify action steps, such as focusing on a particular driver of employee engagement. Such factors might include: training and development opportunities, supervisor support, or perceptions of inclusion.
  • Strategies for improving overall engagement, particularly in today’s economy, may include: focusing on needs of supervisors as well as on needs of employees (to stimulate greater supervisor support); and placing more emphasis on strong effective teams as a way of providing additional support to employees (to encourage greater perceptions of workplace inclusion).

Although it is counter intuitive, it is also cost-effective to invest in team functioning during economically challenging times. Research indicates that poorly trained employees and ill-functioning teams can negatively affect organizational outcomes.

Older workers are a great source of experiential and knowledge/skill transfer in the teams they work with. Tapping into employee’s desire for more professional development can potentially increase overall workforce engagement, so it is important to not limit these opportunities to individuals of certain age, stage of life, or career. rule

The reports, Age & Generations: Understanding Experiences at the Work Place and Engaging the 21st Century Multi-Generational Workforce emanated from the 2007-2008 national Age & Generations Study conducted by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.

More than 2,200 employees ages 17 to 81 participated in the survey, representing nine organizations across the nation from a range of industry sectors. The Age & Generations Study looked at similarities and differences in employees’ perceptions of their work across ages/generations, career stages, life stages, and job tenure.

For example, data from the Age & Generations Study suggests that the span of ages within different career-stages is quite large. The ages of those who reported being at early-career ranged from age 17 to 61 years; mid-career, from 22 to 62 years; and late-career, from 28 to 81 years.