Tackling employee information overload

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Written by Armin Hopp on 8 July 2014 in Features

There is a pressing need to bring meaning and purpose back into employees’ working lives if they are not to disengage entirely, Armin Hopp says

Employees are becoming overloaded with information and overwhelmed by multiple channels of communication. This means for corporate learning that it can be an uphill struggle to keep learners on-task when you are competing against a cacophony of electronic noise.

App maker Locket was able to work out how many times people unlock their phone to look at it – this averaged out at a massive ten times per hour. Combine this with checking PC and tablet-based communication channels, from social media to collaboration software, encompassing instant messaging and traditional phone and text messages, and there is no doubt that this daily barrage of communication is causing more stress, decreased concentration and productivity for learners.

Unsurprisingly, Gallup research found that only 13 per cent of employees around the world are fully engaged at work and in China this number is only six per cent. Businesses have woken up to this issue – two-thirds of business leaders cite ‘the overwhelmed employee’ as a top business challenge in a Deloitte study, ‘Global Human Capital Trends 2014’.

The same study found that only one in ten companies feel equipped to deal with the overwhelmed employee. Many of us spend more than two thirds of our waking hours at work but the signs are that as we spend an increasing number of hours working, the hours we put in are becoming less and less productive, as we struggle to handle the bombardment of electronic communication channels. At the same time, employees appear to be getting little support from HR. More than half (57 per cent) of HR executives who responded to the Deloitte study rated their capability to help employees manage information and schedules as ‘weak’ and 39 per cent rated it ‘average’.

There is a pressing need to bring meaning and purpose back into employees’ working lives if they are not to disengage entirely. Josh Bersin, co-author of the Deloitte study ‘Global Human Capital Trends 2014’, believes the number one reason people leave their job is for lack of learning and opportunity. He told the Huffington Post, “Our research shows that companies that invest more heavily in training, career development, and mobility far outperform their peers in almost every industry.”

As organisations wake up to this and the business benefits that come from a flexible learning organisation that is constantly reskilling to meet the demands of global competition, many are implementing the latest solutions to address anything from compliance training to language learning. The danger is that this investment will be wasted if e-learning delivery becomes yet another channel of electronic bombardment.  

Make your voice heard and switch on your learners

Set the stakes. Employees need to have a clear definition of their company’s direction, mission and vision. Part of this mission should be to embed learning into everyday business culture. Getting a manager to explain in person what the organisation hopes to achieve through a learning and development strategy is a good start. Employees need to be able to prioritise learning above other demands when necessary, and management plays a key part in facilitating this.

Some points to consider.

  1. Switch off distractions. It is a good idea to design or procure a learning solution that prompts users to switch off all unrelated programmes or applications while learning, so as not to be distracted by constant alerts and pop-ups coming through.
  2. Set your learners free. A cloud-based solution that is flexible, mobile and runs on all devices, regardless of time and location, can free up your staff to learn in a way that suits them. This way, they can pick up their learning wherever they left off and continue learning while travelling or at home. They are not forced to learn only while in the office, where they may be caught up with other tasks.
  3. Get personal. Make content relevant and personal so that it stands a chance of competing with the latest viral video or Buzz feed quiz. People thrive on individual coaching and feedback. This need can be met by offering customised learning content and coaching, perhaps by appointing a personal coach who takes care of the learner by sending regular motivational emails and giving individual feedback on their progress. People waste as much as 41 per cent of their time on things that offer little personal satisfaction and do not help them get work done, according to the Deloitte researchers. So when students feel that training and development is relevant to their work, they will do much better.
  4. Go back to basics. Speexx has found that a low tech personal phone call to a student who is behind schedule with their training may be enough to cut through competing distractions, boost motivation and get them back up-to-speed.
  5. Never stop communicating. Start by explaining why an employee needs to learn something and how enhanced skills will contribute to the organisation’s success as a whole. Keep in touch with the learner throughout the programme and make sure that he or she is recognised for completing the training successfully. Encourage learners to communicate with each other, providing peer support during training and afterwards, when trainees are applying their learning in the workplace. 


About the author

Armin Hopp is the founder and president of Speexx. For more information, visit www.speexx.com


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