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The role of learning in employee experience

Deep dives | 22.06.2021

The Role of Learning in Employee Experience: Creating happier employees through better learning experiences

Happy employees can make all the difference in a workplace. They also make customers, business partners, suppliers, and fellow employees feel great about being associated with the organization. And while a healthy paycheck at the end of each month helps, there’s more to a great employee experience than just dollars and cents. A critical aspect of motivating a workforce is in providing a fulfilling and rewarding experience at work. One where employees feel involved, empowered, consulted, valued, and supported throughout their progression with the company. They must have a sense of belonging to the broader organization, not just their smaller work team. All of this adds up to a new focus that’s sweeping through workplaces across the world. It’s called employee experience. And it turns out, learning and development is at the core of this experience. Let’s take a closer look at employee experience.

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What is employee experience?​

A few years ago, how employees felt about their work, their attitudes about the workplace, and their perceptions of workplace engagement and productivity were often considered an “HR thing.” If an employee had questions or concerns about these key aspects of her or his job, they’d typically be directed to their HR representative, and managers and leaders moved on to “more important things.” This isn’t the case any longer. Most organizations have shifted their understanding of employee experience to include interactions with managers and leaders across the organization - employee experience is in every interaction, every touchpoint, every person and process they come into contact within an organization.

 A KPMG report, looking at The Future of HR 2020, suggests that: “Employee experience can’t be considered without looking at the work that a person does, the tools they are provided with, and the environment they are surrounded by.” Today, senior management in most organizations have realised that what drives employees to thrive in the workplace goes beyond good pay and solid prospects for promotion – although those count too. A survey of work perceptions, co-authored by LinkedIn, showed that an overwhelming majority of employees believe that only the nature of their work is more important than opportunities to learn and grow in their roles to keep them inspired, happy, and motivated at work. 

 Surprisingly, the survey results highlight that when it comes to job satisfaction and motivation, contrary to what most employers might think, the opportunity for a hefty pay raise or rapid promotion through the ranks isn’t top of mind for employees… Those factors actually rank among the bottom three in the top ten. At a very high level, any experience that helps employees perform better, feel better, have sharper focus at their jobs, and feel a sense of belonging, accomplishment, and fulfilment in their work, is part of a new wave called Employee Experience (or EX). In short, EX is anything that produces motivating, positive, energetic, and satisfying experiences at work. In other words, employee experience is all about injecting meaning into work.

In your current job, what is the #1 thing that inspired you and makes you happy and want to work harder?

  • The nature of the work itself
  • Opportunity to learn and grow
  • The company culture and work environment
  • The people you work with
  • Making your goals or hitting your targets
  • Getting a raise
  • Getting promoted
  • My boss
  • Opportunity to travel or relocate
  • Other

Why employee experience matters now

Employee Experience (EX) has become very topical in today’s workplaces, with changing market dynamics adding impetus to it. The generational shift in workforce demographics is one leading factor that’s bringing EX to the forefront, with younger employees placing greater emphasis on learning and engagement than their predecessors. A closer look at these key drivers surrounding EX may help give more context to the role it plays in today’s workforce. It’s been often said, “A happy worker is a productive worker.” By inference, therefore, unhappy workers are less productive. But until recently, we’ve never been able to quantify the meaning of “unhappiness” at work.

A 2019 survey by Deloitte might give us some clues. Based on the survey results, it’s clear that a worryingly low number of respondents find their workplaces to be either a satisfactory or very satisfactory environment. This lack of enjoyment and satisfaction causes burnout and disengagement. A parallel survey, also by Deloitte, found that engaged employees outperform their counterparts by a factor of 147%. As a result, employee experience – which seeks to up the job satisfaction factor to keep workers engaged and motivated – is crucial for highly functional and productive workplaces.

Given the immense popularity of EE, tech giants like Microsoft are working actively to claim a bigger piece of that pie. Their launch (and active promotion) of Microsoft Viva, their proprietary employee experience platform, is a testament to how important experience has become in the global workforce conversation.

In their words: “Microsoft Viva is an employee experience platform that brings together communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights. With Viva, foster a culture where people and teams are empowered to be their best from anywhere.” The technology juggernauts are plugged into the market forces that are changing the employer-employee relationship paradigm. When a tech giant like Microsoft starts offering solutions in a specific segment of the workforce empowerment market, it prompts employers to give those trends a serious look.

Shifts in the market are driving changes in how to engage with employees

The gig economy

A sizable number of employers have switched to transient workforces, partly as cost-cutting measures and largely as a reaction to competitive forces within their industries. One report highlights the doubling of Britain’s gig economy over the past 3-years, to now account for more than 4.7 million workers, with the value of the freelance (gig) economy now surpassing the $138 billion mark. As a result, with more workers engaged in non-permanent, short-term work in the gig economy or as part of a ‘contingent workforce,’ they look for job satisfaction and meaningful workplace engagement in return for giving up “secure” careers.

Millennial / Gen Y expectations

One estimate is that 10,000 Boomers retire each day in the U.S. In the U.K., the last remaining members of the Boomer generation achieved pensionable age (55-years) in 2019. The number of Britain’s population, aged 65+, is now more than 12 million – that’s upwards of 185 of the population. Having paid their debt to the workforce, many of these individuals will move into retirement. As the Baby boomer generation’s last remnants exit the workforce, they’re replaced by Millennial / Gen Y workers who come to the table with different employer expectations.

The typical mindset of this new wave of workers is “loyalty to self” – which puts greater currency on job fulfillment and meaningful workplace engagement. For them, having rewarding experiences at work far outweighs the promise of promotions and even monetary rewards.

Growing skills gap

Competitive landscapes are continually changing – much faster than they were just a few years ago. As a result, employee roles and responsibilities within the organization constantly evolve. Unfortunately, employees’ current skills (to do their existing jobs) aren’t adequate for them to perform the new roles and responsibilities that companies expect of them. For instance, a bank teller might not have the required skills to serve customers in today’s digital banking era. This often results in a disconnect between what employers want and employee expectations of the workforce realities they face. As companies reinvent themselves, employees lack the skills to do the job the employer needs them to do in the reinvented workplace. Unless employers provide meaningful experiences to workers, including retraining and upskilling, employees will feel disillusioned and demotivated. The result is poor individual and organizational performance. The KPMG report referenced earlier, The Future of HR 2020, highlights the importance of this fact

The search for more meaning: Shifting relationships

There’s been a seismic change in what employees expect from work - with subtle and not so subtle shifts in the employer/employee relationship over the last 20 years. Under the previous regimen, employees focused more on how they (as individuals) could do their best to contribute to the organization’s success. It was more of an introspective look at how the individual viewed her or his abilities to make a difference for the organization. Given how workplaces have evolved over the past half-decade or more, employee perceptions about their role within the company have changed as well.


Do I have the tools to do my work?

Am I performing at a high level?

Are my department and I performing well?


Do I feel welcomed and supported?

Am I growing and developing?

Do I feel part of something bigger than myself and my team?

This evolution has led employees to question what they are receiving from the organization in return. They are looking for more pleasant experiences in the workplace – not just in terms of monetary compensation but also appreciation and recognition, job satisfaction, growth prospects, and opportunities to learn. Packaged together, these form the basis of a positive employee experience.

Learning: The critical tool in meeting changing expectations

As employees transition from and into this new relationship paradigm with their employers, they grapple with three critical questions regarding the experience they expect in the workplace.

Do I feel welcomed and supported?

Thanks to a tech-savvy upbringing, today’s workers are more resourceful and independent than their Boomer counterparts. However, they measure how receptive the organization is to them based on the support they receive when they join the team. They’re very conscious about having all the tools, technologies, and support structures required to succeed. If they don’t have pleasant experiences during the pre-boarding/onboarding process, they’ll likely have a negative perception of the organization quite early on.

With organizations spending approximately £2800 on the average hire, losing an employee even before they’ve begun their careers with the company is a huge blow.

Am I growing and developing?

Personal development on the job entails providing a skills framework to help employees understand their strengths and weaknesses and have a clear path to move on to their next role, either internally or externally. The “loyalty to self” psyche that today’s employee brings with them when they join the workforce doesn’t mean an employee is selfish or self-centered. Today’s employee knows full well that, if it suits the company, they’ll be let go immediately – that’s the nature of today’s highly competitive business environment. So, in return, employees look for better workplace experiences such as personal development, skills refinement, and opportunities to learn new and transferable skills. If they don’t find those opportunities within the company, they’ll likely look elsewhere. However, employers that do offer such experiences are richly rewarded by highly motivated and skilled workforces.

Do I feel part of something bigger than myself and my team?

Connecting involves building a network, being recognised for your expertise, and learning from others. Part of the employee experience is how much employees feel they’re part of a team and how much teams feel part of the larger corporate entity. Building these connections can be a challenge, especially in larger multi-layered organizations. Employees need to feel connected to other parts of an organization’s structure. They need to know management values their contributions. More importantly, the pursuit of knowledge through interaction with others is a critical element in delivering favorable employee experiences. Addressing these questions with learning In the sections below, we’ll review each of the three points highlighted above to understand how learning can play a critical role in meeting the changing expectations that employees have about the relationship with their employers and the workplace.


Onboarding: Do I feel welcomed and supported?

The onboarding process is the ideal time for employees to feel welcomed into your team and assured that you’ll support them through their journey with the company.

What is onboarding?

Onboarding describes a wide range of activities that occur when new employees join the team. The objective of the onboarding process is to equip new hires with the training, skills, knowledge, and behaviors necessary to become productive and efficient members of the team.

What is the role of learning in onboarding?

Learning plays a central role in onboarding. In fact, one might say that, because those going through onboarding are typically new to an organization or a role, onboarding is all about learning.

When does onboarding start?

Just as the onboarding process starts before an employee’s first day at work (inputting personal data, making workspace available, procuring tools and supplies for him/her, etc.), learning as part of onboarding may also start in parallel. For instance, introductory packages, policy and procedure manuals, and training materials might be provided in advance, with expectations that the new hire will have reviewed them prior to the first-day onboarding sessions.

When does onboarding end?

Most organizations have a specified length for onboarding, during which it is expected that new employees will learn all there is about the company and their roles. However, onboarding often doesn’t conclude until several weeks after the employee has come on board. That’s because onboarding aims to transform the new hire into a fully functional, efficient, and productive member of a team. In most instances, new employees continue to learn about their new roles after the onboarding process, but within the solid framework provided to them. Therefore, the objective of onboarding might only conclude once the new hire confidently embraces the new role/team for which he/she was hired. What’s included? What’s not? When employers hire new talent, typically, the expectation is that the new hire brings with them plenty of experience, knowledge, and skills required to fulfill the role for which they were hired. Therefore, most onboarding does not include essential learning or training about the ob. However, because company norms differ in how employees conduct themselves while performing their roles, onboarding does include training and learning support around those aspects of the job. A graphic artist will not learn “Graphic Design 101” during onboarding. He/she might, however, be trained on new tools and technologies used by the company and company-specific processes (file naming conventions, corporate preferences for fonts and colors, etc.)

Onboarding may also include training for:

  • Information specific to the job and the role
  • Expectations around performance, acceptable behavior, and corporate social norms
  • Connecting employees with others whom they’ll interact with.

The outcome of effective onboarding: knowledge of culture, role clarity, confidence to perform, social integration

A successful onboarding culminates with the new hire having:

  • Knowledge of the culture - In-depth knowledge of organizational culture
  • Role clarit - Deep understanding of their role
  • Confidence to perform - Self-assurance in their ability to excel on the job
  • Social integration - Comfortable socialising and collaborating with colleagues, peers, and associates at all levels within the organization

Framework for an effective onboarding learning program

Onboarding learning programs are profoundly unique to each organization. The processes through which these programs operate, therefore, are as personalised as organizational DNA. However, there’s a common framework that binds every onboarding learning program. And as long as the fundamental pillars for the framework are in place, onboarding success is assured. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests a four-layer framework for an effective onboarding learning program


Compliance training sets the stage to equip newly onboarded employees with the organization’s legal and policy framework. New employees must learn the rules and regulations that bind the organization and their own actions.


This sets expectations around what the organization wants from the employee (in terms of the role they are hired for) and how each employee will be measured/evaluated. Employees learn what they’re expected to do on the job.


Here’s where employees learn about the cultural norms and behaviors acceptable within the organization. To be successful, employees need to understand both formal and informal cultural settings within the organization.


This aspect of the framework informs new staff about the organization’s formal and informal networks that they can tap into or rely upon to navigate their roles successfully.

How companies structure onboarding learning programs might differ too. For instance, Tesla restricts its onboarding to minimal efforts – spending no more than a week going through topics like orientation (1 day), manufacturing essentials (1 day), manufacturing fundamentals (2 days), and mass-market vehicle train (2 days).

Contrast that to Google’s onboarding process, which can span several months. A mid-ground is the onboarding process at consulting firm McKinsey – which, during the pandemic, has been completed virtually over the course of several weeks. In each case, however, the four critical pillars of the framework exist.

A high-level onboarding framework might include the following:

  • Week 0

Pre-boarding: Introduce the culture, vision, and organization structure

  • Week 1-2

Connect with peers and get to know the culture from an employee’s lens. Get to know critical systems and resources. Align expectations with your manager

  • Week 2-x

Can vary from days (e.g., Fast Food) to months (Business Analyst), and includes key task, skills, capabilities (Learning Plan / Program Sidebar)

  • Week 5 forward

My Development Plan (Competency Profile).

Feedback & refine expectations (Check-Ins)


To ensure a workable onboarding framework exists, it is critical to provide and receive feedback throughout the onboarding process.

This feedback goes both ways, from employee to employer and vice versa. Upon successfully completing each round of onboarding, the framework must include a reflective review (taking the feedback into account) to refine and finetune the onboarding learning process.


Career Development: Am I growing and developing?

Career development plays a critical part in delivering a fulfilling employee experience. To feel engaged and accepted within the organization, employees look at career development paths and how the employer will support them to navigate those pathways.

Why Development Plans / Pathways?

Today, an individual’s career can look more like a roller coaster— complete with unpredictable peaks, valleys, and changes in direction. Exploring new careers and switching employers regularly is the norm, not the anomaly. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent numbers, employers can expect to keep an employee for a median of 4.6 years.

For organizations focused on retention and loyalty, that is a sobering fact. So, why develop your employees? To motivate and empower them. People need to acquire new skills to hold onto their existing jobs, move into new positions, and enter new careers. The skills and knowledge required to succeed in a rapidly changing workplace are also constantly evolving and adapting - emphasising the need for a continually rolling learning and development plan. When employees know the behaviors that define success, they naturally feel more empowered to drive forward in their careers. The tangible results of an empowered employee range from increased employee productivity to operational effectiveness to long-term retention.

Dan Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, said science shows that mastery is an intrinsic motivational driver that leads to better performance and personal satisfaction. A learning pathway provides learners a sense of progress and mastery as they make their way through the curriculum.

Brandon Hall Group identified items that organizations often overlook when implementing competencies into talent management:

  • 72% of organizations cite that the most important factor in deciding whether to stay with or join an organization is the opportunity for leadership and technical skill building.
  • 74% of organizations say that defining critical competencies is essential to the business, but only 0.7% currently have the means to predict the required skills.
  • 31% of organizations don’t define essential leadership competencies for leaders at all levels.
  • Without a proper assessment strategy, the likelihood of identifying critical competencies is only 15%

Without meaningful development pathways to motivate them, newly hired employees are more likely to stumble through one assignment/ project after another, feeling unfulfilled or disconnected from the larger goal of their work. These qualities don’t make for very inspiring leaders within a company.

What is needed to make them happen?

There are three primary components required for the successful development and implementation of employee development plans/ pathways:

Skills / Capability / Competency Model

Competencies are no longer endpoints on a journey to round out an employee but rather to accelerate meeting a business objective. It is now about designing competencies by starting with the needs of the business and working backward in assessing how many people within an organization have these competencies and to what degree they have been developed.

Competencies represent the building blocks that define abilities, skills, knowledge, motivations, and traits and other attributes that differentiate top from mediocre or poor performers. When properly designed and implemented, competency-driven talent management translates an organization’s strategic vision and goals into behaviors that employees must exemplify to succeed.

Consulting firm Development Dimensions International, Inc. (DDI) proposes a holistic competency model, called Success ProfilesSM, that links corporate business strategies to their people strategies.


What people know

Technical and/or professional information needed to perform job activities successfully.


  • C++ Programming
  • Client Acquisition Strategies
  • Cross-Cultural Differences


What people can do 

A cluster of behaviors performed on a job.


  • Decision Making
  • Planning and Organising
  • Coaching


What people have done 

Educational and work achievements needed to perform job activities successfully.


  • Led a Sales Team
  • Started up an Operation
  • Launched a New Product

Personal Attributes

Who people are

Personal dispositions and motivations that relate to job satisfaction, job success or failure.


  • Leadership Disposition
  • Cognitive Ability
  • Risk Averse

A proven competitive edge is gained by understanding how top performers behave, and subsequently replicating this behavior and culture throughout an organization. Competency Profiles represent sets of competencies, complete with the levels of proficiency required for success, in a particular job or role. Each competency is articulated in terms of progressively higher proficiency levels. Some jobs require only a basic demonstration of competency, while others require more complex levels.

The ultimate objective of a Skills/Capability/Competency Model is to identify the right talent for the role and groom them for success in those roles. When properly designed and implemented, competency driven talent management translates an organization’s strategic vision and goals into behaviors that employees must exemplify to succeed.

Competencies bring greater clarity and granularity to the assessment process. When those competencies are linked to development activities, the process also provides that crucial next step by giving employees a choice of development options that will help them reach a specific performance level.

Assessment Tools

Whether assessing employees for development or performance feedback purposes, competency assessments provide an enhanced understanding of employee strengths and gaps. Assessments help to set a baseline for each employee, and that baseline performs two functions. For employees whose performance does not meet the job’s competency requirements, the assessment will identify gaps that the employee can overcome with the right development activities.

For employees whose performance meets or exceeds the job requirements, these evaluations can help identify the next challenge they could work towards within the organization.

Any type of assessment can be applied in this context, including 360-degree, parallel, and self-assessment processes. Regardless of the assessment type, using competencies to articulate the process gives all participants—including the employee being evaluated and those providing assessment input—a clear understanding of the specific on-the-job behaviors being assessed.

Typically, the assessment process is an ongoing one, commencing (and proceeding) long before future employees are onboarded.

Through continued interviews, assessments, and surveys from senior leadership, line managers, supervisors, and front-line employees, HR planners can:

  • Assess the need for future business-critical talent
  • Take company-wide stock of existing inventory of those skills, and then
  • Target talent recruitment drives to acquire those critical skills
  • Create learning and development plans to support incoming talent
  • Onboard newly acquired talent
  • Train, nurture, and encourage new employees to optimal performance

Assessments, among other tools, assist employees in building an inventory of their competency strengths and gaps. This information can then be leveraged for succession planning, career pathing, and career development. Employees are empowered to plan their individual career development, as they are now equipped with the directive to identify paths for progressive and/or lateral growth.

Learning resources

Today, an individual’s career can look more like a roller coaster— complete with unpredictable peaks, valleys, and changes in direction.

Exploring new careers and switching employers regularly is the norm, not the anomaly. According to the most recent numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers can expect to keep an employee for a median of 4.6 years. For organizations focused on retention and loyalty, that is a sobering fact.

That is why it is essential to map your learning and development resources to the competencies and proficiency levels in use within your organization.

That is why it is essential to map your learning and development resources to the competencies and proficiency levels in use within your organization. This mapping enables employees and HR professionals alike to clearly see the learning path required for any career move.

Research indicates that organizations that follow such a profiling process are 4.8 times more likely than their competitors to breed in-house leadership talent that helps the organization rate among the top 10% of their peer group.

While this mapped information can be made available in spreadsheets, guidebooks, intranets, or wikis, it should ideally be managed in a software program that is accessible for all employees and can be easily updated by HR professionals and others. Providing a range of learning options encourages and supports learning styles, from one-on-one coaching to self-paced, online learning to social learning.

At an employee level, individuals can use the mapping as a tactical tool to create their unique development plans. At a managerial level, it allows people-managers to view learning and development plans with a more extended, operational focus, to build a pipeline of talent pools.

At an organizational level, senior management can use this information to plan funding and staffing talent to meet industry-wide competitive challenges in the more distant future.

Making an effort to find a range of alternatives also increases employee participation and engagement levels. While self-guided development puts primary responsibility on employees to choose their own direction, the organization must still take responsibility for developing accountability frameworks as well as instructional materials and processes to give employees the support they need to self-manage.


Social Learning: Do I feel part of something bigger than myself and my team?

Collaboration creates a more motivated and engaged workforce because people are smarter together.

The collective knowledge of a diverse group beats the inert expertise of a few lone wolves. Employees also produce better work together. Working and learning in isolation is proven to be less effective and, in some cases, leads to disengagement. Surveys indicate that disengagement can often lead to employees quitting the company.

On the positive side of the equation, studies by Deloitte prove that there are quantifiable benefits – revenue, profitability, customer satisfaction, competitive advantages – that a motivated and highly engaged workforce brings to an organization. And that level of commitment may only come when employees feel they are part of a larger picture than just the narrow focus of their roles in the organization. So, how can organizations promote a feeling of “belonging” and “contribution?

Break down information silos

Promote self-sufficiency at every level of your company by removing information hierarchies and allowing everyone to access the same knowledge, no matter their department, role, or location.

Foster interaction among employees

True engagement is based on having a relationship and is driven through social values and trust. People learn best from other people, and effective, lasting learning is almost always the outcome of having a relationship with someone and receiving value from that person.

Encourage User-Generated Content (UGC)

UGC is the term used to describe any form of content such as video, blogs, discussion forums, digital images, audio files, and other forms of media created by consumers or end-users of an online system or service and publicly available to other consumers and end-users.

You already have UGC going on in your organization. Accept it, formalise it, and ask yourself this instead: Wouldn’t it be nice for it all to be in one clean, tidy place? Wouldn’t it make sense for MORE employees to see that helpful video Dan made for his team about your new CRM? Wouldn’t it be great to have more eyes on high quality, authentic content created by your users for your users? Of course, it would!

  • $1bn + revenue impact

A 10 percentage-point improvement in customer experience can equate to a

revenue impact of more than $1 billion.

  • 147x as profitable

Companies with highly engaged employees outperform pees by 147% in earnings per share.

  • 25% more profitable

Companies in the top quartile of workforce experience are typically 25% more profitable than competitors in the bottom quartile.

  • 2 x satisfaction impact

Companies that focus on workforce experience double customer satisfaction reflected in their net promoter score.

Promote Social Learning

When used correctly, social learning is worth getting excited about. McKinsey suggests that some industries could increase productivity by nearly 25% if they fully implement social technologies. But why is that?

Through sharing, people get to know each other. Familiarity is the basis of trust-building. The more you encourage users to contribute meaningful, helpful

learning content, the more they will trust and want to engage.


Getting employee experience to the top of the agenda

As Boomers fade out of the workforce, younger (Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z) workers are beginning to fill the void.

According to a PwC report on NextGen workers, an overwhelming number of these

new, younger entrants into the workforce want more out of work than just a decent salary.

And the best way to offer them that is through engagement opportunities, learning and skills development programs, mentorship, knowledge about potential development options, and fostering beneficial relationships at work.

Interestingly, all these factors are part of a well-defined L&D program in any forward-looking organization. When tied closely into other action plans, such as work/life balance, managed workloads, assigning meaning, and interesting work, they can turn dull “employment” into a well-rounded Employee Experience.


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