On paper, upskilling sounds like a great idea. It gives your workforce something to focus on in their downtime, increases their skill set, and makes them more valuable to your business. However, for this to work, managers need to be aware of the human element. Pushing extra training programs on your employees without providing adequate structures to support them can quickly overwhelm an already stretched workforce and lead to burnout. This is an issue affecting many businesses today that are also grappling with the shift to a remote or hybrid workforce and a wave of resignations that is being called The Great Resignation.
That’s not to say that upskilling can’t work. In industries like aviation engineering and IT, in which high technical skills and continuous learning are required, upskilling is an unavoidable and necessary part of career advancement. For HR managers, getting the approach right for how to encourage upskilling in your workforce while avoiding burnout will be crucial for ensuring the long-term growth of your business.
Let’s first get an understanding of what burnout is. Strictly defined, burnout is an occupational phenomenon that results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It usually includes the following symptoms:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Feelings of negativity or cynicism related to your job
- Reduced workplace efficiency and motivation
The worst thing about burnout is how insidious it can be. You usually don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late. It also typically happens to the best workers; you can’t suffer burnout if you don’t care about your job to begin with. The good news is that it is preventable and can be managed when it does strike.
How to Upskill Your Employees Without Causing Burnout
1. Create a Personal Development Plan for Each Employee
Every employee who is trying to upskill will require a personal development plan. Providing a detailed plan with set tasks, milestones, and end goals will be crucial for giving workers a sense of direction and purpose. A good development plan should include formal and informal elements. For example, IT workers or engineers who are learning a new programing language should be provided with the resources to learn in their own time and encouraged to spend time with a senior team member who can act as a mentor.
Managers need to also check in regularly with employees, providing encouragement, asking if they’re having any difficulties, and reinforcing why their role matters. Take any feedback they have to offer, as well. Some people learn better through in-person classroom settings, while others prefer online training modules.
2. Set Realistic Expectations and Timelines for Reskilling
Upskilling your employees takes time, and managers should not expect to get results overnight. Establishing a timeline for how to split work hours and training hours should be developed collaboratively between managers and employees. Doing so will allow employees to retain a sense of control over the process and keep themselves motivated. Consideration also needs to be made for how training programs will impact their current and projected workload.
Additionally, managers need to remain empathic. When an employee is learning a difficult new skill, it’s natural for the worker to feel a bit overwhelmed and fearful of failure. It’s important that managers understand, communicate, and embrace this as part of the process.
3. Leverage Remote Training Programs
While there may still be some room for in-person training sessions, managers should make use of all the tools available to them. Remote training programs are one of the best ways to do this, and there are a host of providers out there that can be used to upskill your employees. These programs can allow you to create engaging training modules that can keep your employees motivated, track their performance, and collect data for improving the learning process.
Two years ago, AFuzion modified its remote training program to allow employees to more easily split their workday, allowing 4 hours of the workday for training and the remaining 4 hours for their normal daily tasks. We are seeing higher engagement, better technical questions, and higher energy from training attendees, as they can focus on their training and development while avoiding the “fear of missing out” disease.
Allowing your employees to study from the comfort of their own home will mean they can spend more time with their family and save on any unnecessary travel, making the whole process less stressful for everyone involved. That said, managers should still check in regularly with remote workers to see how they are doing. The isolation of working alone can sometimes get to workers and make them feel disconnected from the rest of the team.
4. Establish a Wellness Culture in the Workplace
The final and probably the best thing you can do to combat burnout is to establish a wellness culture in the workplace. This is when management puts a high priority on looking after the mental well-being of their employees. Burnout almost always results from a workplace that does not have adequate structures to provide support for employees who might be struggling with either professional or personal issues. There needs to be a healthy work environment in which employees feel valued, respected, and listened to.
The best way to do this is by creating an open environment where employees are encouraged to talk about how they are feeling mentally and what kinds of emotions they are feeling. Healthy work habits should be encouraged, like taking short 1- to 2-minute stretch breaks every 20–30 minutes. Stress-management programs can also be implemented whereby employees can learn techniques on how to deal with stress. A serious approach to mental health and wellness in the workplace is something every business is adopting right now.
5. Evaluate, Iterate, and Evaluate
As every manager knows, no two employees are the same. Just because a few of them are finding success and enjoyment with your current training program doesn’t mean the rest are getting the same results. This is why, as a final step, you must allocate some time to survey and evaluate how each employee is performing. You may also want to offer different training opportunities and schedules so each employee can find what works best for him or her.
The benefits of upskilling both your employees and yourself cannot be overstated. But for any upskilling program to work, there needs to be an awareness of the dangers of burnout and a strategy for how to provide a balanced approach to upskilling. Everyone has a breaking point, and management must be able to recognize when their employees are close to theirs and provide support when needed. Committing to a healthy upskilling strategy will not only lead to impressive results for your business in terms of retention, revenue, and profitability but also advance your employees’ long-term career prospects.
Vance Hilderman is the principal founder/CTO of three significant aviation development/certification companies, including TekSci, HighRely, and AFuzion. Hilderman has trained over 31,000 engineers in over 700 aviation companies and 30+ countries. His intellectual property is in use by 70% of the world’s top 300 aviation and systems developers, and he has employed and personally presided over 500 aviation engineers on 300+ projects over the past 35 years. His latest book, Aviation Development Ecosystem, debuted at #1 on the aviation category bestseller list.