Employee education helps build culture, sense of meaning in the workforce

When you have about 1,400 employees working around the world, finding a way for all of them to take a class together or enjoy a “Lunch and Learn” event isn’t even remotely possible. But one thing nearly all of them have in common is a smartphone.

As the chief people officer for Saba Software, Debbie Shotwell is responsible for human resources, learning and development, employee communications and community relations. One of Saba’s main areas of software development is learning, so the company works hard to be at the forefront of creating innovative ways to educate employees and develop their skills and interests, Shotwell said.

People tend to learn best when they are learning something they want to know and in a way that works with their busy lives, Shotwell said. They don’t want a system that is stagnant or has to be done at certain times or in certain places. Saba offers classic tuition assistance – something it has found useful over the long term.

In 2015, the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans (IFEBP) conducted a study to determine what the typical rules are for tuition aid. They found 83% of companies and organizations offer some form of educational assistance to their employees. The top three reasons for offering educational benefits are to retain current employees (52.1%); maintain/increase employee satisfaction and loyalty (42.6%); and keep employees current on evolving skill sets required for the organization (41.1%).

But there also are new ways to learn. That is where the smartphone, tablet or any other mobile device comes into play.

With Saba’s platforms – which it uses internally and develops for its clients – people “can learn on the phone while they’re sitting on a beach or using their laptop on a train or plane,” Shotwell said. “You can take the classes you want and personalize the kind of things you want to learn.”

Personalized plans
To bolster its learning environment, Saba also brings its managers and employees together to develop personalized plans for each worker. This is part of the company’s long-term commitment to what it calls “360 degree feedback,” Shotwell said. Every employee gets personalized development plans that aim to boost their skill base, meet compliance standards or learn more about what they want to find out.

“It stimulates people to think more on their own and also allows us to have more creativity. They can put something together that works for them,” Shotwell said.

These personalized development plans are like individualized journeys that include the learning component, Shotwell said. But Saba also has a variety of other programs that help workers feel like they are learning, growing and engaging in the company.

One example is its onboarding program. Each employee gets a kind of “work buddy,” or someone who is familiar with Saba, its history and its overall goals as an organization. The buddy shares their experiences and works with the new hire to help them set their own goals on how they want to grow and contribute to the company.

“People want to go to work but they also want that work to be meaningful,” Shotwell said. “They want to know what their purpose is and not just want to be told what to do.”

Saba also has what it calls the Pulse Program, in which it polls its employees on a regular basis, typically monthly, to find out what they want to know. They also ask questions on a quarterly basis, checking in with employees to see what they want the company’s management to know about their experiences and suggestions.

“These are written responses, so every quarter we get 800-plus suggestions,” Shotwell said, adding with a laugh that it can seem like the world’s largest suggestion box at times.

A recent suggestion was about parental leave. That was an easy one to implement a longer parental leave policy at Saba, Shotwell said, mostly because of the company’s international connections. Other countries have longer maternity and paternity leaves, so giving everyone worldwide the same options of taking a six-month protected parental leave and up to 22 weeks of paid time with their new family members was a smart move for everyone, she said.

“This really allows people to take a break, focus on their wellbeing and their children’s wellbeing as well as creates true family bonding time,” Shotwell said. “Saba also has a CEO who is progressive in his thinking. He has a daughter, so he was excited to (boost parental time off).”

This kind of open-minded thinking makes it easier not only to recruit women but to find talent, retain good workers and reward employees across the board, Shotwell said.

“It’s what I call the best time to work in this type of business because finally boards of directors are giving us voice and giving (human resources) a seat at the table. They’re looking at the data,” Shotwell said. “They care because they realize employees are the competitive advantage.”