What has happened to employee development in Lockdown?
Lord Mark Price comments on how lockdown has changed career development

I have had many conversations over the last year about how lockdown has impacted on individual’s career development. The discussions tend to focus on the lack of face to face training programmes and are skewed towards missing technical training. The result, I am told, is that people have been held back. As the President of the Chartered Management Institute I have become more certain that in this country we are prizing technical training over what are sometimes referred to as ‘soft skill’; leadership, management, influencing, getting things done through people etc. I’ve always thought these were better described as ‘core skills’ required to make whatever you’ve learned about the mechanics of your trade run to their maximum potential.

I count myself fortunate that in my early years with the John Lewis Partnership I worked for nine different managers and five managing directors before I became one. What I learned through osmosis, coaching, doing and watching others at work were vital to my development. And then, of course, there were the technical skills. Over recent pre pandemic years, the insight on employees we gather from our WorkL platform had shown that those aged between 21-34, and particular those in management roles, say their career development is poor. So, in lockdown it must be even worse: right?

Well, no actually. Our WorkL survey shows a remarkable rise in scores around personal development.

We compared scores from 7,500 working from the office pre covid with 4500 working from home. When asked ‘are you being developed’ men and women working from home score five percentage points higher, non-management 7% points higher and for every age group from 19 to 65+ results varied from 2-6% better. The only group which was flat were managers.

So, without formal face to face training what was driving these hugely improved scores? I think there are two things, more responsibility leading to greater on the job learning and better coaching.

Two questions the survey asks get to the heart of whether employees feel they are given responsibility. The first is ‘I am allowed to make decisions’. In answering this question, we see across men, women, all ethnic groups, ages and non-management we see at least 3% higher scores from pandemic home workers. But managers are slightly negative.

And the same is true for the question ‘I’m trusted to make decisions’. Here there is a minimum 2% increase in all employee groups, save managers who again score below the office working pre pandemic survey responses.

When it comes to assessing how people are being developed through coaching we use two questions. First whether an individual’s views are heard and whether they feel recognised. Positive reinforcement is definitely one of the ‘core skills’ we are less good at in the UK. On average we praise workers once every four and a half months! But we’ve got better at it through the pandemic. Again, across gender, ethnicity and age the scores are on average 4% higher for home workers. For non-management it’s 5% with management again level.

And two-way conversation has also much improved for home workers, on average 5% higher with just managers in line with a year ago.

What this research clearly show is that through the pandemic and the consequent rise in home working managers have needed to delegate more, trust more and empower their employees more. While managers feel their personal development has not moved forward perhaps fewer, conferences, briefing development courses, though they manage have made a big step forward.

Managers still however outscore their employees on all these questions by around 5%. So it is clear to me that there is still scope to future develop individual responsibility and accountability to drive productivity.

It will be fascinating to see when people do return to the office whether that transfer of responsibility we have seen over the year from managers to managed remains and is future enhanced. I think in more progressive organisations it will be. For that to happen the bar will need to be raised on core skill training for managers.

Lord Mark Price

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