Continuous learning is the substratum upon which everything and everyone can flourish in successful organizations today. Any organization that purports to support the wellbeing of their employees, must first provide the structure, culture, and resources for people to always be learning.
The evidence on the effect learning has on wellness is clear. In the UK, a program for people with mild to moderate symptoms of depression and anxiety found that adult learning resulted in better wellbeing and less severe symptoms of depression and anxiety. People reported that they enjoyed engaging in regular group activities and the courses helped foster relationships, and self-management strategies. Other research has shown that adult learners have improved optimism and rate themselves higher on wellbeing. Yet more research by David Cutler and Adriana Lleras-Muney found that education affects longevity and is a predictor of health.
On a basic level, learning makes us aware of important information that can help us get healthy, stay healthy, or manage our wellbeing. It can also bring us together, fostering community and belonging.
Organizational learning for working professionals goes deeper. Learning and development teaches people how to be in tune to seeking out new information and processing that information in a meaning and impactful way. A formal, structured learning and development program cultivates learning instincts and agility, perhaps the most vital competencies in the modern workplace. Everything is changing and changing faster. The problems we face are more complex and the opportunities abstruse. As an organization, if you are not learning as you go, you are sunk.
McKinsey & Company says, “It’s about how leaders can reskill and upskill the workforce to deliver new business models.” Deloitte reports that “Employees at all levels expect dynamic, self-directed, continuous learning opportunities from their employers.” Boston Consulting Group warns, “More than ever, organizations will rely on skills to differentiate themselves from the competition. They can no longer afford to separate learning from core business operations.”
When learning is an integrated part of an organization’s operation and integral part of the culture, it becomes ingrained in how the work gets done. It instills in people that learning is part of life, and what’s more it helps them find value in their contributions. Learning gets people thinking and thinking puts us on a path toward groundbreaking discovery.
Any leader who truly has the best interest of their workforce at heart, must make learning part of the job for everyone and do so in a thoughtful way.
Some organizations have yet to truly grasp the gravity of what is at stake by not investing in their people. Instead, in those arcane and likely doomed holdovers, learning and development is seen as an abstraction buried somewhere in the corporate values, or a nuisance they wish would go away. They regard learning as a liability against production. It is time taken away from work getting done. This, of course, is a corruption of how learning actually works. Learning is the fuel for innovation and continuous improvement.
That aside—and to return to the point at hand—learning is wellness. Any leader who truly has the best interest of their workforce at heart, must make learning part of the job for everyone and do so in a thoughtful way. Learning is not easy. It is challenging and at times stressful, so when we provide learning opportunities to working professionals, we need to be considerate of their circumstances. Providing learning as yet another thing for people to do on top of their already demanding jobs can backfire in some situations. Learning needs to be incorporated into the job and accessible to different levels of learners. Learning, in fact, needs to be a requirement of the job—built into the business.
To deny people continuous learning or to give only a glancing recognition to learning and development is to deny the wellbeing of the people in your organization. To stay well—to recover from being unwell— people must be open to new information and receptive in a way that gathers that information from sometimes unexpected places. We must all be vigilant about wellness on an individual and community level. The key to that vigilance is to ensure that we are always learning.