How L&D actually helps employee retention

Speak First Avatar

25 July 2019
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

about-us-collaboration-community-872955 (medium)

Classic wisdom suggests that hiring a new employee to a company and spending time training them up will end with them leaving you and finding a better job with all of their new skills – which you paid for them to learn. This vision could make many people nervous of investing too heavily in staff L&D, believing it to be a poor long-term investment.

Actually, research has found that the exact opposite is true. These days, people are looking for employers who want to invest in them, and organisations where they feel appreciated. Deloitte discovered that when employees felt engaged with the organisation, they were 87% less likely to leave.1

In a recent post, we examined how L&D pays for itself. Within that, we briefly discussed how the costs of training staff and running ongoing learning opportunities are financially better than the cost of replacing staff. In this post, we’ll explore this idea further, looking into what it is about L&D that keeps staff engaged, and how L&D professionals can utilise this to boost staff retention.


What are employees looking for?

Increasingly, people are prioritising finding a job where they feel supported and enjoy the culture and values. As part of this, people are looking for opportunities to learn new skills and develop personal growth. Many organisations have started putting their L&D opportunities in their job adverts in order to entice the best candidates to apply. The next step is to smartly use L&D opportunities to keep staff engaged and loyal to the organisation.

Both the UK2 and America3  are currently enjoying their lowest rates of unemployment in decades. This growth of the jobs market means people are being pickier when applying for, accepting and staying in jobs. People feel secure and confident that they could find something else that would pay at least as well, which means a good salary is no longer the draw it once was.

A recent study into career priorities found that workers rate learning new skills over the desire for a pay rise. Leo Biggins, CEO of CV-Library, which ran the study, suggests that when discussing plans for the next 12 months in annual reviews, managers should also discuss their staff’s longer-term goals. This gives them an opportunity to see what they want to achieve and which skills they’d like to learn in order to get there.4

In fact, giving managers the opportunity to learn and develop managerial skills will also help with staff retention. People who want a place in an organisation with a culture of helping and nurturing its workforce, will be more loyal when they feel that kind of relationship with their manager. If a company wants to deliver on these kinds of attitudes, then it has to take a proactive approach and have it filter down from the top levels.


Start from day one

17% of people say they’ve left a job within the first three months because they weren’t enjoying it.5 This, plus the revelation that almost one third of all newly hired employees will fail their six-month probation,6 creates a worrying picture of employee retention.

It would help both those who fail probation and those who leave willingly if their organisations had more of a culture of learning. Of those that left a job quickly, 21% said it was because they wanted more effective training for their role, and others complained that their responsibilities were poorly explained, or that the culture was unwelcoming and didn’t recognise their contributions.

By promoting a culture of learning from an employee’s first day, you can eliminate many of these issues. Not only does L&D help train staff, but it can make them feel appreciated and recognised for not just what they can do, but for what they have the potential to do. Additionally, it creates an atmosphere more conducive for building a team spirit and asking for help. This gives those new employees who initially struggle more of an opportunity to grow into their role, knowing that they are being supported at an organisational level.


Preparing for the future

An interesting report by Ricoh shows that a majority (57%) of European workers believe that, in the not-too-distant future, they’ll be working 4-day weeks. This is largely down to the way technology has increased productivity and output over the past few years. But, 70% of workers also recognise that, as technology develops and jobs change, they’ll have to continue learning and upskilling throughout their careers.7

Perhaps the most striking part of this report is that there were no noticeable differences between the attitudes of the different generations. It’s been a generally accepted fact that Millennials and members of Generation Z (who are just starting to join the workforce) are more likely to expect a company to provide L&D. However, everyone – even up to the older Baby Boomers – recognise the growing importance of learning at work.

The rise of technology brings into focus how the skills needed by a company’s workforce are changing. Soft skills are now more important than ever, particularly as automation becomes an ever-growing presence in the job market.

From self-service supermarket checkouts to self-driving cars, automation is becoming a very real part of modern life. The Office of National Statistics estimates that 1.5 million jobs in England have a high risk of being lost to automation. Machines and artificial intelligence are able to do many jobs as well as – if not better than – their human competition. Many low-skilled jobs are at risk, but even those that you might have assumed were safe due to the training involved could be in jeopardy. For example, machines which can quickly process long lists of figures will outperform humans in finance roles.8

However, the robot uprising is not yet upon us. Technology and AI don’t possess the soft skills of a well-trained workforce. Qualities such as creativity, persuasion and flexible out-of-the-box thinking are still beyond the machines and should be central in an organisation’s L&D strategies.

As much as employee retention should focus on keeping staff happy and engaged, it also needs to focus on ensuring they’re suitably prepared and trained for their jobs. Therefore, organisations need to see that, unless they act quickly, they’ll lose many of their workforce. However, they won’t be lost to automation, but instead to companies that are able to offer learning opportunities in crucial soft skills.

Training in soft skills has the added benefit of creating more well-rounded employees. Your staff may be technically competent at their jobs, but given the right learning opportunities, they could become more intuitive, confident and personable. These skills will raise up your organisation, not just future-proofing it, but ensuring that your staff are the best they can be. Because ultimately, employee retention is secondary to having the best team in place.

As Henry Ford said: “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”



Employees are displaying much less loyalty to the organisations they work for and are instead gravitating to places where the culture and values match their own beliefs and priorities. People want opportunities to learn, grow and develop in their roles, even more than they want pay rises and promotions.

The solution, therefore, seems obvious. When a company runs L&D for their staff, the staff are more likely to feel appreciated, be engaged and enjoy the culture.

So, not only can L&D create a better trained, more knowledgeable and well-rounded workforce who are ready for the future, but it also creates happier workers who wants to stay with you into that future.

Check out our Learning Solutions to find the best courses for your workforce


1 Deloitte (2016) Engaging the workforce

2 Department for Work and Pensions (2019) UK sees record employment as unemployment falls below 4 per cent

3 New York Times (2019) Job growth underscores economy's vigor; unemployment as half-century low

4 CV-Library (2019) Revealed: Employee's top career priorities in the next 12 months

5 SHRM (2015) Onboarding key to retaining, engaging talent

6 Business Matters (2019) Third of newly-hired employees fail to pass probation, costing UK businesses tens of thousands each year

7 Ricoh (2019) Workers look forward to four-day week as technology helps their productivity rise

8 BBC (2019) Automation could replace 1.5 million jobs, says ONS