How to Improve Employee Retention During the Great Resignation—and Beyond

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In December 2021, 6.3 million American workers left their jobs, bringing the number who voluntarily quit last year to 47.4 million . While the causes and consequences of these departures are likely to be studied for years to come, one thing is clear: current labor market dynamics are putting companies under immense pressure to retain their workers. 

In this environment, companies across all industries are reassessing benefits packages to ensure their offerings have a clear positive impact for both employees and employers—and continuing education benefits are one of the most vital wins for both. If you’re an employer looking for ways to engage your employees, drive productivity, and provide meaningful opportunities for fulfillment and growth, continue reading.

Below, we highlight how investing in education can increase your team’s engagement and retention, and we share in-demand skills for powering career advancement.

Why Learning and Development Matter for Retention 

Why do employees leave their jobs? While many factors influence these decisions, employees care deeply about the ability to learn and advance. Gallup found  that a lack of growth opportunities is the number one factor that drives employees to leave their jobs.

Employees, just like employers, are aware that their future in the workplace depends on their ability to grow and adapt to new trends. If they feel they will be left behind by staying in their current role, they will more than likely move on.

Employees who have access to training and growth on the job reward their employers with increased loyalty. LinkedIn found  a remarkable 94% of employees say they would stay at their company longer if it invested in their growth. 

That’s a statistic employers can’t afford to ignore, and it demonstrates precisely why adding training and development to benefits packages is a win-win for companies and employees alike.

Learning Benefits That Meet Employees Where They Are

These days, offering only traditional learning benefits like tuition reimbursement for college degree programs doesn’t cut it. Benefits need to meet employees where they are—and for many, taking on a full degree program while working, especially if they need to pay tuition upfront, is logistically infeasible. That’s likely why less than 10% of eligible employees  nationwide take advantage of tuition reimbursement programs. 

Plus, degree programs are often too broad or theoretical for both employees and employers to provide the targeted, skills-based education that makes a real difference to a career. 

Savvy organizations should consider alternative models to get the most benefit from their investment. For example, Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs), in contrast to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), bring a collaborative, experiential nature to an online setting. These online courses utilize a cohort-based learning model to allow students to benefit from interaction with their instructors and other professionals with similar experiences and goals.

Since they range from a few weeks to a few months in length and cost as little as $1,000, these programs are far less resource-intensive for both employees and employers than traditional degrees. Offering SPOCs as an educational benefit (employers fund a program upfront) rather than a reimbursement also makes it equitable for employees to take advantage of these opportunities.

Top Skills Professionals Need to Advance Their Careers

So, you’re sold on offering training and development to your employees. What skills should you focus on helping them acquire in today’s rapidly changing workplace?

Ideally, organizations should provide training that will help employees succeed in their current roles and prepare them for future growth. Focus areas can range from highly technical skills to “power skills” like communication and management. 

Leadership Skills

While leadership skills are critical for managers and organizational leaders, employees at all levels can benefit from building their leadership toolset. Many of these skills are immediately applicable, even for those just starting. Developing them early on sets employees up for success and mobility within your organization. 

1. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence—the ability to empathize with others and understand and control one’s reactions—is not purely instinctual. Emotional intelligence training focuses on helping managers understand emotional patterns and respond appropriately in challenging situations.

2. Delegation

Many leaders get to where they are through superstar performance. However, once they’re in charge of a team, they may struggle to delegate tasks. Training managers in effective delegation relieves their workload and helps their teams collaborate more effectively and achieve more substantial outcomes.

3. Flexibility

As the last two years have demonstrated, unexpected challenges can arise at any moment. Strategies that help leaders navigate change, nurture adaptability, and inspire resilience can help managers thrive under any circumstance.

Power Skills

In today’s complex business environment, the traits and behaviors commonly referred to as “soft skills” have transformed into “power skills” that every employee needs to succeed. 

1. Critical Thinking

While critical thinking may seem abstract, it’s essential for success in any industry. In fact, one of our recent surveys  found that 24% of employers identified critical thinking as a crucial area for employee upskilling. Critical thinking skills empower employees to make thoughtful, strategic decisions that drive their role and business forward.

2. Innovation

Often, leaders assume innovative thinking is an inborn ability that one can’t teach, but that’s far from the truth. Programs designed to help professionals identify needs and patterns—and come up with creative solutions—can make a massive difference to your organization’s future.

3. Interpersonal Communication

Most managers have encountered employees who may be fantastic solo contributors but struggle to work with teammates or share their ideas more widely. Targeted communication training can help these employees maximize their potential and increase harmony in your teams.

Tech Skills

Whether or not you work in a tech-related industry, your employees need technical skills to succeed today. Top areas of focus include:

1. Data Analytics

As organizations continue to gather information on customers and habits, the ability to crunch data and use it to make strategic decisions (ranging from product development to marketing) is a game-changer for organizations in every industry. 

2. Artificial Intelligence

AI and machine learning apply advanced algorithms to massive data sets, allowing computers to identify patterns. This technology advances rapidly, with implications for everything from the insurance industry to automotive manufacturing. 

3. Cybersecurity

Cyberattacks grow more pervasive–and more dangerous–nearly every day. Cybersecurity skills are no longer a nice to have for organizations. They’re essential, especially in high-regulated industries like financial services. 

All these skills are opportunities to empower your employees and build a culture of learning that helps your organization survive and thrive during the Great Resignation.

Encourage open communication between employees and their managers to pinpoint clear areas for skill enhancement. Encourage your leaders to embrace technical and holistic skill development to help all employees upskill and flourish in their careers. Making these learning opportunities accessible and equitable is a critical investment in driving team engagement and retention for today and the future.


Charlie Schilling is the President of Enterprise Business at Emeritus.


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By Charlie Schilling