An introduction to Learning

When we have opportunities to learn new things and develop our skills, it naturally follows that we gain in confidence, motivation and a sense of personal growth. So when we feel we have opportunities to learn, levels of interest and productivity go up.

12 Learning

Why it’s important

We’ve found learning to be a strong predictor of happiness at work, particularly among employees under the age of 55. Studies have shown that an employee’s perception of their opportunities for developing new skills positively affects both job satisfaction and wellbeing at work. Some researchers even go so far as to say that without some opportunities for learning, thriving at work becomes impossible.

Opportunities to learn, develop and use your skills are also important for staying engaged at work. When we looked at the happiness of over 23,000 workers in eight countries, we found that feeling able to progress and develop is especially important for staying interested in work. Daniel Pink’s best seller Drive identifies ‘mastery’ (the urge to improve our skills) as one of three key motivational factors for employees.

As with other drivers of happiness at work, improving learning and development isn’t just beneficial for employees. Research has found that at the company-level, perceptions of opportunities for skill development predict company productivity in the subsequent year. Feeling like your organization has a culture which encourages learning has also been found to indirectly reduce intentions to quit.

What one of our experts says

“Of the organizations I’ve seen make substantial strides in improving learning at work, they tend to take action at different points in the system, but roughly at the same time. So, People Ops do a review of training opportunities and how they are distributed (e.g., do some teams get more opportunities than others?), while teams look at opportunities to mix things up a bit for people feeling stagnant in their roles. Shadowing specific tasks or responsibilities often requires little time commitment (an hour here or there) but it’s an hour filled with learning. Individuals have an important role in the learning space too – this is because we are much more likely to feel the happiness benefits of learning when an opportunity aligns with what we feel is important to us personally – and this requires knowing ourselves – our strengths and weaknesses – and the direction we’re looking to take”. Dr Jody Aked, Friday Pulse

How we measure it

To measure how much people feel they have the opportunity to learn at work, we ask:

Do you feel that you are learning new things at work?

We use “learning” here as it is broad enough to capture the things people pick up through their day-to-day work, through their relationships or through formal training. While “new things” stresses what the evidence from psychological studies shows: learning isn’t just for kids; we need to keep learning as adults – for our self-esteem and resilience as much as for protecting against loss of brain function (e.g., memory) as we get older.

: Robert Half (2017) It’s time we all work happy. The secrets of the happiest companies and employees. Robert Half Retrieved from : Wilson, M.G., Dejoy, D.M., Vandenberg, R.J., Richardson, H.A. and McGrath, A.L. (2004) Work characteristics and employee health and wellbeing: Test of a model of healthy work organisation. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology 77: 565-588 : Spreitzer, G., Sutcliffe, K., Dutton, J., Sonenshein, S. and Grant, A.M. (2005) A Socially Embedded Model of Thriving at Work. Organization Science 16(5): 537-549 : Pink, D.H. (2009) Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead Books. : Patterson, M., Warr, P. and West, M. (2004) Organizational climate and company productivity: the role of employee affect and employee level. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 77: 193-216 : Egan, T. M., Yang, B., & Bartlett, K. R. (2004). The effects of organizational learning culture and job satisfaction on motivation to transfer learning and turnover intention. Human resource development quarterly, 15(3), 279-301. : Hammond C (2004) Impacts of lifelong learning upon emotional resilience, psychological and mental health: fieldwork evidence Oxford Review of Education 30: 551–568. : Staff, R, R, Hogan, M, J, Williams, D S, and Whalley, L J (2018) Intellectual engagement and cognitive ability in later life (the “use it or lost I” conjecture) longitudinal, prospective study, BMJ: 363