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Employees Are Over Foosball Tables and Free Snacks. Your Company Culture Needs This Instead. Your business needs to adapt to your employees' new needs.

By Shelley Osborne Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

"Don't waste my time." From rejecting long commutes to cutting out inessential meetings, employees have new priorities, and using time valuably for more fulfilling work, upskilling or better work-life balance is one of them.

It is on companies that want to retain and attract talent to rebalance their expectations and priorities to match. Employees have stopped asking for fancy offices with foosball tables and kombucha on tap. Let's face it, most employees are over the free snacks. These trends, including employees' increased willingness to leave for greener pastures, are likely here to stay. One survey revealed that just 17% of employees say they want to work in the office full time.

Instead, employees want learning and development (L&D), the opportunity to upskill and growth opportunities. L&D is a genuine carrot: a Gallup report shows that 87% of millennials say that career growth and development opportunities are important to them in a job. Ninety-four percent of employees say they would stay at a job longer if the company invested in their learning and development. And they want it wherever they happen to be — whether they're in the office or working from the back of a camper van.

Related: This Is How to Boost Employee Retention With Lifelong Learning

Building a modern learning culture

The good news is that a learning culture isn't just beneficial for your employees. It's a fantastic competitive advantage for your business as well. However, to truly make a company stand out and fully reap the benefits for both employees and employer, it must become a "learning organization." This isn't a new concept, but the complexity has grown as we evolve the workplace to meet modern and flexible approaches to work. If a learning culture is going to take root in this environment, it requires more intention and focus than ever before.

Cultivate a "learning is everyone's job" mentality.

Learning is not left up to employees to do in their spare time. Instead, it's built into the job through the setting of learning goals, time and budget allocated for courses or projects, and career development processes that focus on learning — not just ascension to bigger titles or more compensation.

Shift the perspective forward.

Many companies measure the success of learning activities based on how many people showed up, hours completed or enrollments. These backward-looking perspectives tell us what has happened and completely miss the point. Did anyone even learn anything? In a world where we're trying to waste less of an employee's time, we must be laser-focused on what the learner can do out the other side.

Focus on the role of "learner" and reskill from within.

Most people know it's more expensive to recruit than reskill, but few companies change their talent strategies meaningfully to address it. The most innovative companies refer to their employee populations as a talent marketplace and realize recruiting starts from within. The focus shifts to growing learners who can change and take on new roles. To do this, the company must be committed to playing the long game and creating opportunities, such as rotations and cross-functional initiatives, for people to take on new responsibilities and challenges.

Related: How Investing In Employee Training Benefits Your Business

Learning as connection

Prolonged work from home periods, hybrid work policies and remote onboarding programs have increased isolation and loneliness in the workplace. Luckily, learning can be the antidote.

Video meetings alone can only go so far in building relationships and truly engaging with one another. Worse, simply replicating in-office experiences on a video call can have the opposite effect and discourage connection. I recently attended a virtual workshop that did nothing but turn the camera on the facilitator and failed to use additional technologies to engage with the audience. It was painful.

So, the question remains: How do we create new spaces and better leverage technology to connect, whether online or in person? There's a win-win solution for both employers and employees that's staring us in the face and is already using technology in effective ways: cohort-based online learning.

Collaborative, cohort-based online learning brings numerous benefits. Learning together and interacting with a group of peers provides a meaningful, structured way to promote social interaction and connection. These experiences often merge teams and allow for cross-functional interaction, something that has been a casualty of new hybrid and remote work structures. They also make the best use of synchronous and asynchronous time — harnessing the best of each world.

But the best part? People learn better in groups. Social interaction and peer-learning is a more effective way to develop skills. In collaborative learning environments, collective knowledge is fostered, mentorship becomes more accessible and social dynamics encourage persistence. It's a win-win. The company culture is shaped around shared learning experiences that build connections and relationships that also happen to be more effective.

Purpose and connection

The work environment has changed irrevocably. Business leaders who don't respect people's time and priorities and find ways to make work meaningful are holding their companies back. We need new strategies to retain and attract talent. Employees are seeking purpose and connection instead of frivolous perks. Fortunately, learning can provide a mutually beneficial way forward for both employees and employers.

Related: 6 Ways to Keep Your Employees Learning At Work

Shelley Osborne

Author of The Upskilling Imperative

Shelley Osborne is an ed tech and learning expert. She was recently the VP of learning at Udemy, where she led the learning strategy and upskilling of employees globally. She is the author of the McGraw Hill book 'The Upskilling Imperative: Five Ways to Make Learning Core to the Way We Work.'

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