Over the past decade, Learning & Development (L&D) has emerged as a function that warrants a strong discourse within the human resources space. Today's talent managers are devoting much of their time to developing various forms of training programmes for the workplace. And rightly so, since L&D features among the top three reasons for retention in stay interviews. The minds behind an L&D programme would agree that delivering a workshop reflects only 15% of the job. It is the planning, nominations, selection of training partners, methods, logistics and material management, budgets, feedback, effectiveness measures, and consistent communication that collectively cement the success of these programmes.
Correspondingly, the biggest disappointment for professionals responsible for L&D is 'last-minute dropouts' or 'absenteeism'. During the planning stages of an L&D session, HR managers take several elements into consideration - the cost of workshops is usually calculated on the basis of the number of participants. Interactive activities, roleplays, and case studies embedded to foster participation are designed taking into consideration team sizes and breakout groups. Nominations are made keeping in mind the diversity of thoughts, functions, and the capabilities of individuals. Arguably, unpredictable absence triggers unfavourable repercussions on the outcome. Simply put, absenteeism 'disrupts' the quality, cost, and effectiveness of the programme.
While several organisations may be able to draw parallels on the above, each of them has a different way to deal with such a 'disruption'. The obvious starting point may be to question the individuals who dropped out of the workshop at the last minute. But, HR managers should zoom out and observe the bigger picture - if absenteeism is a pattern, it indicates a long overdue introspection into the process. The starting point to securing employee engagement would be to pose questions to themselves:
Are the participants viewing training as a mandate?
Do they know why they were nominated?
Are they attending the programmes just because they were nominated, or do they see it as a doorway towards a successful career journey?
There are several factors that come to play when addressing absenteeism and its direct impact on the efficiency of L&D activities. Some of the probable areas of review are mentioned below.
Maximising efficiency through planning and organising
The most common reason cited by the absentees is that they were not informed of the workshop in advance or some other work took priority. Mindful planning of the L&D programmes and preparing participants is critical. Care must be taken to nominate only those people who are most suited for the programme. As employees often seek to learn in a non-threatening environment amidst like-minded peers, the focus should also be to bring in diversity of thoughts and experiences for maximum learning. The timing of the training programme should also be taken into consideration. Scheduling a session towards the end of the month will lead to 'no-shows' from the finance and sales departments, as impending targets and closures take precedence.
Garnering interest through timely communication
Just as recruiters market job openings and brand teams advertise their products, 'selling' the idea of an L&D programme or workshop to employees has today become a necessity. It is vital to give potential participants the visibility of what they can expect in the programme, and more importantly, what they may lose out on should they choose not to attend. Taking advantage of the organisation's communication channels, or working with the communications team to help expand beyond mere emailers is something that the L&D team must look into. Peer testimonials must be used as 'social proof' to convince them that the programme is valuable. Promoting the programme addresses the question of 'what's in it for me?', and the right tools deployed at the right time can be astonishingly persuasive.
Reviewing the relevance
How often do we review the relevance of the training offered or the content? Learning how to make courses relevant to an individual's day-to-day work, figuring out ways to overcome the concerns of delegates, and making training fit into your wider learning strategy, all make a big difference to whether a course fills in a flash or is desperately seeking attendees. Hence, a thorough process of Training Need Analysis is in order.
The training options would be required to cater to the dynamic needs and diverse skillsets, age groups, learning modes, geographic presence, languages, etc., based on acceptability and effectiveness. Programmes would vary in terms of duration, frequency, and the level of difficulty. While some would need to be classroom-style and instructor-led, some would be online learning options, customised for the organisation or off-the-shelf from third party providers. Considering these factors can reduce absenteeism significantly.
Additionally, the training calendar for the year needs to be designed to provide solutions in both the core areas of learning as well as development. The complete value of the function is achieved when equal importance is given to both these aspects through the 70:20:10 model -
70% - Constitutes learning from on-the-job experiences
20% - Comes from the relation-ships and feedback received from mentors, managers, peers, and subordinates
10% - Achieved from focused training
Ensuring participation through leadership intervention
This is by far the most important aspect for the success of a Learning & Development strategy. Successful leaders use Learning & Development as a proactive instrument to design the people capabilities of the organisation. The commitment and drive for learning initiatives from the leadership add tremendous value that positively cascades down the organisation. It influences managers to invest in the efforts, in turn improving attendance manifold. Often, trainers encounter situations where the manager expects a participant to be available for telephone calls during a workshop. This is the biggest reason for partial attendance, and directly affects the focus and involvement of the participant with an obvious lack of implementation in the post-training phase. Having a leader introduce the objective of a programme for a few minutes is known to reduce absenteeism significantly.
By developing comprehensive, all-inclusive L&D programmes, HR managers define the learning culture within an organisation. Then, addressing the issue of absenteeism becomes imperative to ensure that the workforce is consistently engaged, thoroughly prepared, and suitably agile to fulfil their individual roles and also solve the toughest business challenges that lie ahead.
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