Webinar: The Overwhelmed Worker

I took a Training Industry webinar called Training for the Overwhelmed Worker: Three Steps to Curb the ChaosIt was very informative and helpful, as it quantified the dilemma experienced by today’s workers when faced with the veritable firehose of information and training opportunities while managing fast-paced and demanding work.

Are Today’s Workers Overwhelmed?

  • Trend #1: Working to prove a return on investment means today’s workers are operating at an incredible pace. If it doesn’t  contribute to the bottom line, fuggedaboudit.
  • Trend #2: The half-life of newly learned skills is getting shorter and shorter. Keeping up and staying ahead is very difficult.
  • Trend #3: Hyperconnectivity = no line between work and home. No down time. Today’s employees are “always on.”
  • Trend #4: Companies want to decrease costs and increase productivity. They’re looking toward performance improvements, lean org structures, and give less time for development of employees.
  • Trend #5: The number of regulations is increasing. Complexity is increasing. Example: Dodd-Frank Act (456 rules since 2010 – more on the way)

The Reality

Eighty percent of organizations believe employees are overwhelmed with information and activities.

Sixty-five percent of executives rated the overwhelmed employee as an urgent, important trend.

— BUT  —

Forty-four percent of them are NOT ready to deal with it.

What is the Impact of Being Overwhelmed?

  • Employees need to know a lot more
  • Processes must be lean
  • Regulatory compliance may suffer
  • Supervisors need to learn how to manage other overwhelmed workers
  • To maintain baseline competence, workers need to continually acquire new skills and knowledge
  • More than 70 percent of organizations cite “capability gaps” as one of their top five challenges.
  • The idea that there is “too much to learn” feeds the perception of critical skills shortages and can accelerate burnout.
  • Workers are overwhelmed and under-trained.
  • Companies are impacted:
    • Operationally
      • Increased regulatory risk
      • Decreased productivity
      • Decreased quality
      • Reduced decision-making
    • Organizationally 
      • Increased pressure on managers and teammates
      • Decreased morale
      • Negative work environments
    • Financially 
      • Increased training costs
      • Increased opportunity costs associated with employee burnout
      • Decreased revenue
      • Inefficient training
      • Learners can’t absorb training

Tactics to Reduce Pressure on the Overwhelmed Worker

  • Active employee management of their own development and careers
  • Helping employees manage information and schedules
  • Helping leaders manage demanding schedules and expectations

How Can Training and Education Professionals Help the Overwhelmed Worker?

  1. Curate your training NEEDS, not CONTENT
  2. Align your performance solutions around the highest impact needs
  3. Help learners better integrate learning into their day to day activities

Step One: Curate Training Needs

  • There is an imbalance between training needs and learning and development professionals’ capacity to satisfy those needs.
  • Training departments have finite time and resources to address training needs.
  • Workers have finite time and cognitive resources to close the knowledge/skills gap.
  • Training professionals must select which needs to address and which to leave and set limits on what is offered and what is shelved
  • To prioritize needs:
    • Corral your internal customers using a recurring, regularly scheduled process to solicit and prioritize training needs
    • Assemble the list of needs
    • Pull stakeholders together to prioritize training needs to meet the organization’s strategic objectives

Step Two: Align Development Around Highest Impact Needs

This gives a framework for all the stakeholders to look at training needs objectively.

  • Matrix 1: Impact/Urgency
    • This matrix is developed with your internal customers
    • Every need is rated on an Impact/Urgency matrix
      • If the knowledge/skills gap is closed, what impact will it have on the organization’s strategic objectives?
      • How quickly must the learner acquire this skill?
      • THEN focus on the upper right-hand quadrant
        • If this filters your list down to a manageable list, then you don’t have to do Matrix 2.
  • Matrix 2: Complexity/Time Requirement
    • This matrix is completed within the training department
    • Complexity considers the time, effort, and cost of delivering the course
    • Time Requirement is an estimated amount of time it would take for the learner to master the knowledge/skills. If the skills will no longer be needed at the end of the mastery cycle, then perhaps the intervention is not worth developing.
    • Don’t exclude the other three quadrants, but you’re likely to prioritize in the lower left quadrant – quick wins (that meet organizational objectives, as decided in the first matrix).

Control the Flow of Training

Another big part of aligning development around highest impact needs is controlling the flow of training to your learners. As you manage your performance solution platform, new requirements and needs will pop up throughout the year. Randomly.

The learner should not be required to prioritize these needs; you need to manage them and present them as part of a personalized, planned training plan for each individual.

This is tactical-level training management.

  • Create personalized training plans.
    • Translate, prioritize lists of training requirements for each worker
    • Provide a learning roadmap
    • Organize per year/half-year/quarter
    • At any given time, learners should know what the organization wants them to learn and develop.
  • The training department must advocate for disciplined adherence to these plans.
    • This doesn’t mean being unresponsive to ad-hoc needs, but any training needs that are not part of the plan should be well-considered before deviating from the plan.
    • This requires an established process for amending learning plans.
  • Use a mastery-based learning method
    • Learners should focus on a single objective or manageable cluster of objectives at a time and should not progress until they demonstrate mastery.
      • This focuses the learner on a single skill.
      • This gives the learner time to practice the skill, which increases the likelihood that the new knowledge/skill will be learned and applied meaningfully – it will be “sticky.”

Step Three: Help Learners Better Integrate Learning into Day-to-Day Activities

  • Break learning into small chunks.
  • Push to multiple devices – this allows workers to take advantage of time where they may not be productive (lunch, commute, etc.)
  • Create space for learning.
    • Not necessarily physical space, but psychological space.
    • Learners should know that taking time for learning will not be chastised, but will be encouraged.
    • Ways this can be done:
      • Allocating a percentage of working hours that should be spent on learning
      • Blocking time on calendars (expecting people to be learning on certain days/times)
      • Building learning completion into performance evaluations, supervisor reviews, etc.
      • Make the learning process social – bring small learner populations together at certain times; working/learning together in the same room; facilitating conversations around the topic being taught/explored
      • Set up peer-to-peer mentoring/coaching/job shadowing
        • If it is a formal approach, learners are more likely to use it (vs “in name only”)



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