Last month, we launched a research project to get the latest data and opinions from L&D and HR professionals, with the L&D Insider survey.
43 professionals responded, ranging from Heads of HR and Directors of Talent through to L&D Leaders and Heads of Education and Learning. Respondents came from a broad spectrum of industries including finance, pharma, public health, charities, legal, media, transport, advertising, music and tech. Headcounts spanned 10 to over 250,000. This allowed us to tap into a wealth of experience and variety of perspective on the L&D sector and its hot topics.
The results are in. Some of the findings surprised us.
Here are five things we learnt…
1. L&D appetite increased, but not for the reasons you would think
Over two thirds of respondents reported that L&D appetite had maintained or increased since the impact of COVID-19, with over a third seeing an increase. Appetite for learning and development has, on the whole, grown. 72% said that their employees would be willing to spend up to one day per month on their own learning and development. A further 10% would invest up to a day a week. It’s a strong desire for growth.
Interestingly, this increase hasn’t been caused by what we might expect. Our research indicates that a larger appetite for L&D was not a result of less of it being delivered. Appetite increased both for organisations who delivered a quarter of planned L&D or less and those that delivered three quarters or more. Nor were headcount changes a significant cause. Appetite grew both for organisations who decreased and increased their headcount.
The increase could instead be due to employees looking to utilise the time regained from less commuting or a desire for in-person L&D as it becomes possible.
2. The problem of commercial uncertainty wasn’t as challenging as the solution
One of the most common responses when asked about the most challenging aspect of COVID-19’s impact was – predictably – uncertainty in the market. But perhaps less predictable was that going digital (Zoom meeting, anyone?) was an even greater challenge, with 47% of respondents finding it the most challenging impact.
Faced with commercial uncertainty and a remote workforce, adapting to the virtual world was largely the solution to the problem. Online meetings. Virtual sales calls. It seems that whilst we were floundering in the choppy waters of sales uncertainty, we had even more trouble putting on the life jacket of virtual work.
3. L&D budgets remained stable
Despite the financial impact on most businesses, budgets remained fairly stable across the L&D industry. 60% of respondents spent at least 75% of their budget in 2020, with a further 10% spending more than budgeted. More than three quarters of organisations invested time, budget or resources into redesigning provisions to be virtually delivered.
Of the cases where less than 75% of budget was spent, the majority said that this was not due to budget cuts. In many cases, the reduced travel costs and lack of a need to book venues and provide catering meant a similar level of L&D could be provided without the usual cost.
4. Mental health has appeared on employers’ radars
Responses from employee engagement surveys provide a striking difference between employers’ challenges before and after the main impact of COVID-19. None of the respondents indicated that working in a remote world was in their top three employee engagement challenges before the impact of COVID-19, with remote working hardly on the radar at all. Understandably, this shot up the priority list post-COVID, with 42.9% ranking it as one of their top three biggest challenges since the impact of the pandemic.
Only one employee engagement challenge was more widely selected than remote working as being in the top three challenges post-COVID impact: mental health (47.6%). No respondents indicated that mental health was one of their top three employee challenges prior to the coronavirus, yet nearly half identified it as being one of their biggest three challenges since the virus’ impact.
It’s worth noting that whilst most have seen some negative effects from the impact of COVID-19, we are not necessarily facing a mental health crisis. Recent research from The Guardian indicated an overall reduction in the number of people who report “above threshold” levels of psychiatric symptoms since the initial weeks the impact was felt. Whilst there will be new challenges for the everyday wellbeing of all our employees, identifying those battling a diagnosable mental health illness is crucial to avoid blanket provision without truly supporting those who need it most.
5. The L&D offering that’s most difficult to provide is also the most requested
When asked if there were specific L&D focus areas that have been more frequently requested since the impact of COVID-19, teambuilding was the most popular answer. One thing’s for sure: we’re not talking about Zoom quizzes. 48.8% said teambuilding had been more frequently requested by people in their organisation, ahead of coaching (44.2%).
Despite there still being some restrictions on office activity, this suggests a strong desire for in-person teambuilding from employees.
Are we craving what we can’t yet have? This could be reflective of employees who’ve joined organisations in the past 12 months and want to get to know colleagues they’ve been working with for weeks, months or even a year and yet have never met face-to-face. Most new joiners won’t even know how tall their colleagues really are.
This desire to utilise in-person time together for teambuilding – coupled with some of us realising that it’s actually quite effective to complete our most important, focussed work from home – leaves us with an opportunity to redefine the purpose of the office. Reflecting on the new purpose of the office is a blog post in itself, but for now it’s worth asking: Is the office now a social hub – or a venue for in-person learning and development – with core work done from home? When teams next get together, they want to grow together.
So, what does this mean for us and our L&D provision? Let us know how you’re responding to the changing learning landscape with your L&D provision for 2021 and beyond.
Intrigued to find out more from the L&D Insider research? Chat to our team to request a different cut of the data or to book a call to use the research to propel your L&D offering.