by Beth Shepard    Beth's profile on LinkedIn  

How and Why to Foster Lifelong Learning at Work

Nora, a recently promoted team lead, has an insatiable drive to learn. Since joining the company, she has accessed many in-house learning opportunities, along with tuition reimbursement for online classes. She’s excited about her role as well as those opportunities for career development… and it shows.

After 2 years, Luke is getting bored with his day-to-day duties. He’s unaware of any employer-based support for learning. Unless his manager quits, there’s no way to advance within his department. He’s browsing online for jobs with more challenge and growth potential.

A 2016 Pew Research Center survey reveals 73% of US adults consider themselves lifelong learners1. Organizations that support learning position themselves as employers of choice by empowering employees to grow and succeed. Becoming a lifelong learner fuels well-being, confidence, enhanced performance, and life enjoyment… and that’s good for business.

The Plastic Brain

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt to input, reorganizing itself and creating new connections. A stimulating environment is vital for maintaining and boosting cognitive function2. For many, it’s also a main factor in job satisfaction.

Cultivating better thinkers should be a high-priority goal for any organization. Whether workers are building airplanes, developing software, or ringing up sales, enhancing cognitive function — plus critical and creative thinking — is a competitive advantage. When employees at every level can analyze a new situation or problem, generate a smart solution, and implement it, business can’t help but move in the right direction.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Novelty spurs curiosity and engagement; exposure to new ideas, experiences, and ways of doing things also fuels creativity and enjoyment. Capitalize on these benefits by encouraging employees and families to step outside their routines and learn something new… whether it’s watercolor painting, coaching youth soccer, or a new programming language.

Learning Matters

According to Gallup research, workers reporting a high level of career well-being are twice as likely to thrive in other areas of their lives… community, social, physical, financial3. Whether we like our bosses and coworkers, enjoy what we’re doing, and use our strengths at work affects everything — from job performance to health. Stress that stems from festering on-the-job boredom or frustration, for example, can cause sleep problems, mood issues, poor nutrition, and less physical activity.

Supporting personal and professional enrichment helps keep employees energized about work, life, and possibilities for growth… which enhances quality of life.

Get Fired Up — 18 Ideas

Leaders in well-being, HR, training, and other functions can join forces to promote lifelong learning. While it doesn’t have to be job related to be worthwhile, that’s likely where you’ll focus resources. Try these suggestions:

  1. Coach team leaders to ask employees about areas of interest for professional and personal growth.
  2. Offer a range of in-service training opportunities, in-person and online.
  3. Encourage managers to let staff dive into a work-related area they’re excited about, then teach the team.
  4. Send leaders and staff to industry conferences.
  5. Establish a tuition reimbursement policy; if possible, cover non-work-related classes and certifications.
  6. Provide student loan payback assistance.
  7. Implement payroll deduction for 529 Education Savings Plan contributions.
  8. Encourage onsite book clubs.
  9. Charter a Toastmasters® club to develop public speaking and leadership skills.
  10. Advertise local events like book tours and lectures; offer free or discount tickets as budget allows.
  11. Invite parks and recreation representatives to host a lunchtime booth to promote classes.
  12. Solicit employee testimonials linking learning experiences with well-being.
  13. Inform workers about online language-learning resources and local conversation opportunities, especially if staff or customers are located around the world.
  14. Recognize learning achievements with certificates, blog features, applause, and other public praise.
  15. Support flexible scheduling for employees enrolled in classes.
  16. Educate your workforce about the benefits and how-tos of mentorships.
  17. Make a periodic pitch for free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like those found on Coursera®, edX®, and FutureLearn.
  18. Host a lunchtime hobby fair to showcase and demonstrate employees’ art/crafts, music, photography, and other favorite pastimes.
Learning About Well-Being

Some wellness managers have downplayed the importance of participants learning about the science of health and behavior change in recent years. The justification ranges from It’s too complex for people to understand or care about, to the only thing that matters is “doing,” not understanding.

While there’s plenty of evidence to indicate just spewing facts about risks of an unhealthy lifestyle doesn’t inspire meaningful change, there is also support for making in-depth information and tools available to those ready to change. When people are committed, they thirst for knowledge and support.

That’s where you and your vendor partners can provide value by curating and vetting resources to offer your population.

We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.

— Peter Drucker

Teaching employees how to learn and supporting their interests is a vital investment. The Economist describes lifelong learning as an economic imperative4. Organizations that foster lifelong learning stand to reap big benefits in performance, productivity, employee well-being… and market share.


1. Pew Research Center, March 2016, Lifelong Learning and Technology,

2. Shaffer, J. (2016), Neuroplasticity and Clinical Practice: Building Brain Power for Health, Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1118,

3. Rath T, Harter J, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, Gallup Press, 2010, pp.16-17

4. The Economist, Lifelong Learning Is Becoming an Economic Imperative, online, retrieved August 3, 2017,

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