Your Top Employees Are Learning New Skills on Their Own Time. Here's What You Should Do.

While your first thought may be these employees are about to jump ship, your priority should be to encourage this kind of lateral growth.

learn more about Darren Shimkus

By Darren Shimkus


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Hypothetically, let's say there's a dynamic millennial on your company's marketing team. You've heard she's been doing amazing work, hitting all her goals and ultimately boosting your bottom line. What you may not know is that, at night and on weekends, she dives into online courses, learning new development skills, such as Java, web design or iOS.

At first, this scenario might lead you to premature conclusions: She's probably unhappy or disengaged in her current role. She's probably building a side gig that will distract her from her main job. She's probably looking to jump ship.

The truth, however, is that our data show her actions as being increasingly mainstream. Your priority should be to encourage this kind of lateral growth.

Related: 10 Simple Secrets You Need to Know to Increase Employee Engagement

Your employees are upskilling on their own.

Your marketer's actions reflect the reality of today's workplace, where more people are taking the initiative to upskill themselves. For example, our research recently found that an astounding 95 percent of millennials say lifelong learning and professional development are critical to their long-term success, and, remarkably, nearly half of those surveyed are willing to spend their own time and money on further training.

So, your marketer is not alone. Our stress survey found that the pressure to master new skills quickly and keep up with changing job responsibilities affects many. More than half reported feeling stressed about about falling behind in acquiring skills they need to succeed in more advanced future positions, and 42 percent say they're worried about being under-skilled for their current jobs.

It's safe to say many others at your company are likely working to acquire new skills even if they aren't directly related to their primary job description. And guess what? That's a good thing.

Related: This Is Why You're Not a Best-in-Class Company for Retaining Employees

Make the most of your self-motivated learners.

Now that you have a good sense of this upskilling trend, it's up to you to leverage your employees' initiative and the new talents they're acquiring to benefit your company.

Engage early and often. To find these self-motivated learners, you have to begin by simply asking them about it, and that hinges on your level of engagement. Sadly, only about 33 percent of the workforce says it's engaged at work, according to Gallup. That leaves a lot of people who are checked out. That has much to do with the gap between company leadership and teams. So, as a leader, the onus is on you to initiate conversations early and often to pulse-check your employees. These discussions increase the chances of surfacing the kinds of upskilling activity we're talking about here and channeling it positively for your company.

Related: Think Perks Are an Incentive? Your Team Doesn't.

Reward upskilling when you discover it. Let's say your conversations with your marketing dynamo or her managers have revealed she's upskilling on the side. Awesome! Give her positive feedback and encourage a broader conversation about how she wants to use those skills. This opens the door for you to make a positive example of her and invite other upskillers to come forward. By sharing these experiences more broadly throughout your organization, you can encourage a learning culture where everyone values upskilling.

Up your training game and invest in company-wide upskilling. Rather than ferreting out "hidden talents," take an upskilling plan directly to your employees. Stasis is the biggest enemy to training programs, so you must stay on top of the latest skills trends using industry- and behavior-based data to make sure your offerings are fresh and evolving. This will help you eliminate ineffective training areas and infuse your program with relevant courses that connect employees to the skills they need right now. This employee-driven approach also goes a long way to build trust and buy-in.

Keep an eye out for upskillers. This kind of initiative your hypothetical dynamo exhibits is a tremendous opportunity for you and your company, not a challenge or impediment to growth. Think about how to stoke the fire employees are using to teach themselves skills. Then empower them and direct them to use those skills to enrich their work and, ultimately, achieve your company's greater goals.
Darren Shimkus

General Manager and Vice President at Udemy for Business

Darren Shimkus has two decades of experience building and growing high-performing sales, marketing and product management teams. Prior to Udemy, he served as senior vice president of global sales and business development at Mophie, responsible for driving revenue across the Americas, EMEA and Asia.

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