How to Develop and Grow Employee's for a Psychologically Healthy Workforce
How to Develop and Grow Employee's for a  Psychologically Healthy Workforce

 Being able to grow and develop professionally is a valuable and sought after characteristic of healthy workplaces. The world is constantly changing and there is far too much competition in the business world to take the risk of staying still. Workers who allow themselves to stagnate in their career often encounter difficulties, both in their professional field and in their current job, because everything else around them is moving forward. Opportunities of development and growth are what allows the business world to look towards the future and give itself a fighting chance.

This article will look at another feature of the healthy workforce: employee development and growth. Topics will include an explanation of what is involved in employee development and growth, the importance it has in regards to workplace and workforce health, and what can be done to help foster it in the workplace.

What Is Employee Development And Growth?

Many people view employee development and growth as instances of improvement. This could be in the form of acquiring new skills or knowledge, or improving upon what a person already knows in an effort to build themselves up professionally.1 Professional development and growth is often encouraged as a means of keeping the workforce and businesses up-to-date with public demands and events in the world. Those who fail to do this often end up paying for it dearly, as they are unable to keep up and eventually fall to the wayside. Those who return to the workforce after a break (e.g. retirement) often encounter such difficulties because they have not kept up with their development and growth, and therefore are at a major disadvantage in their own field.

In many cases, employee development and growth is often viewed as a type of strategy to help retain employees of value AND keep the company moving forward within its industry and the economy.2 Businesses who have failed to implement proper development and growth practices lose out to their competitors that do, and they tend to be glaring examples to the workforce of what NOT to do. For example, some experts suggest that failure to fully pay attention to economic and social demands and develop alongside them may have contributed to video rental company Blockbuster's downfall.3 They, effectively, zigged when they should have zagged and continued to do so-despite awareness of the damage it was doing-right up until they declared bankruptcy in 2010.

Why Is It Important To A Healthy Workforce?

Aside from being the clear way to swim instead of sink in the business world, employee development and growth is a rather important contributor to workplace health. Those who are able to progress professionally tend to be noticeably happier in their careers than those who are not; regardless of if the growth occurs within one company. It's a simple, but rather significant, reason why it is important to the health of the workforce as emotional states are tied to mental and physical health. While this happiness and satisfaction are responsible for some of the following benefits, others are generated simply by the knowledge gained through efforts tied to employee development and growth. As with other features of psychologically healthy workforces and workplaces, the effects often feed into one another and generate further benefits.

The benefits tied to employee development and growth that contribute to its importance to a healthy workforce include:

Improved Skillsets-Improving upon knowledge and skills is both an intention and a benefit of employee development and growth. People put in the time and effort to grow because they want to make improvements to themselves professionally. It's focused on factors of their position, field, industry, etc. and the skills they need to do their job now and in the future. The fruits of that labor, unfortunately, do not become apparent until those skills are put to use and that unfortunately is often why employee development and growth is neglected.4 However, this is one of the benefits that tends to have one of the highest (figurative) payouts for both the employee and their employer.

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Productivity and Performance-Employee development and growth offers results in specific areas. There's a noticeable effect on the quality and quantity of an employee's work once there's been some serious effort towards their development and growth. Positive changes in an employee's productivity and performance can actually be measured and used as evidence that efforts towards employee development actually work. In many cases, this is a major factor in why employers actively foster initiatives for employee growth and development.

Increased Retention-When employees are able to grow and develop themselves professionally in their job, they tend to want to stick around so they can continue to get better. Turnover rates tend to drop and businesses are able to retain great employees that are becoming valuable assets. Strong employee retention can actually help stabilize the workplace, as employees are able to make connections with each other and their employer.

Encourages Engagement-When employees are genuinely satisfied and able to find value in their work they tend to be more engaged.  Employee engagement is an important feature of healthy workforces and workplaces. Employees who are engaged have an emotional connection with their work and trust their employers. When those employers offer opportunities for those employees to grow and develop, it's a sign that they value those employees and want them to do well.5 The two features feed into one another quite easily.

Reduces Costs-If improvements in employee skillsets are one of the highest figurative payouts of employee development and growth, the cost reductions are the literal equivalent. There are usually significant savings financially with employee development and growth, even when employers spend money on things like training and other offerings. This can include the costs associated with hiring and training new employees, work errors, and low performance and productivity.6 In many cases, employee development and growth is an investment that tends to be well worth whatever price tag is attached to it and is paid off repeatedly over time. Employers who don't want to spend that money on those efforts are actually losing more than they are saving on top of their failure to reap the other benefits listed here. 

How Can Employee Development And Growth Be Fostered?

Those who want to offer opportunities for employee development and growth, for whatever reason they have, often are unsure of how to get started. Fostering these opportunities does come with some difficulty, as employees may not have the same motivations behind their professional development as their employers do. Employees also may have some obstacles in place that impact their decision on when and if they will take an opportunity for their development and growth. For example, financial restrictions and work-life responsibilities may limit what options are available to them. Employers do need to take such things into account with their efforts to foster employee development and growth, and should not be discouraged if there is some hesitation or outright refusal of the opportunities they offer to their employees.

That being said, here are several options that can be used to foster employee development and growth in the workplace:

Training and Education-Training and education is one of the easiest and most flexible methods of fostering employee development and growth. Should they choose to do so, employers could offer training opportunities for literally anything related to the business. This can include courses on skills, protocols (e.g. safety), equipment usage, and career-specific options like continued education.7 This option can also be easily combined with other offerings listed below. Employers do not necessarily need to provide training and education options in-house, as they can partner with schools and services that offer formal sessions.

Peer Mentoring Opportunities-Mentoring is often grouped in as a training and education effort, but it often is designed differently. This is an opportunity for someone within the business to share their knowledge and skills with someone who is willing to learn, but on a much smaller and individual basis. Peer mentoring often helps build connections and improves communication in addition to aiding with development and growth.8 This could be done between two employees who are equal in the business' hierarchy, but come from different professional backgrounds, or those who are senior and junior to each other in ranking.

Recognition-Acknowledgement of employee accomplishments is often used as a kind of positive feedback to inform the employee that they are on the right track. Many employees use recognition as means of gathering information that can be used to further improve themselves. Employers should be honest when offering recognition and avoid sugarcoating their input. It's also another way for employers to show their employees that they value them and that they care about them. Employers may want to consider having regular reviews of their employees' performance in the workplace, partially to offer recognition and other valuable feedback, and partially to be able to gauge the effects of any efforts made in employee development and growth.

Networking-Most of the workforce turns to networking when they're in search of a new job, but it can also be a great tool for development and growth. Networking puts people in touch with others who have knowledge and resources that may be of importance to their career.9 Those connections can develop and be maintained without a lot of extra effort, thanks to resources like social media. Many businesses encourage networking because they can also benefit from their employees' connections, especially in times of emergency and crisis where a certain resource is necessary.

Professional Development Organizations-There are literally thousands of organizations dedicated to professional development that employees can become members of and gain access to the resources they offer. They often be used as networking and training/education options, as those features are often built into the structure of these organizations. Members of these organizations often have full access to the resources they offer, including conferences where you can learn about the newest trends, tools, etc. in your field. You can search by profession, industry, location, or other criteria and find one that fits your needs. The requirements for joining these organizations vary, namely in membership costs and qualifications, so it's best to thoroughly check out what's needed and available before joining. Some professional development organizations do offer company membership in addition to individual membership; employees of businesses who have a company membership to an organization tend to have full access to its resources through their employer and therefore do not require their own membership.

Tuition Reimbursement-Tuition reimbursement programs are becoming a popular option for employee development and growth, largely because they help employees overcome some of the more common financial hurdles that prevent them from seeking improvement on their own. Some view it as an incentive rather than a means of fostering opportunities, but it often has the same effect. Employers who offer these kinds of programs typically will pay for any formal training and education that their employees undergo as a part of their professional development. For example, an employee who chooses to enroll in a graduate program to obtain their master's degree and improve themselves in their current position may be eligible. Keep in mind that these programs can become very expensive for employers very quickly if they are too lax in their requirements. Those who choose to offer such a program should make sure that here are certain qualifications in place for participants and that the employers are able to handle the financial burden the program may place on them.

Flexible Opportunities-When it comes to healthy workforces and respectful international workplaces, being flexible in general is often a very good idea. There are too many factors that can present themselves and narrowing your options too far can lead to more problems. Flexible opportunities for employee development and growth can allow for easier accessibility and keep the options up-to-date with current trends.10 It also helps in preventing employees from stressing out about finding the time to participate in professional development opportunity by offering a variety to choose from-and likely one that will fit their schedule.