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The Importance of Making Learning at Work Safe and the Norm

Do you love to learn?

Are you someone who is always curious to find out more about new things, whether for work, life, or play?

We spend years at school being taught the rudimentaries of reading, writing and arithmetic. We are tested extensively on our ability to regurgitate facts, figures, and our understanding of different subjects.

We graduate to the adult world moving into jobs and work that requires our skills.

But is that where learning stopped for you?

If continuing to learn, upskill, and gain mastery is something that’s important to you, have you ever found yourself in a place that made it impossible for this to happen?

A couple of years ago, I signed up for a one-day course in Sydney with a well-known American Guru (Not the fire walking TR!) curious to discover whether any of his teachings would spark where I wanted to take my career.

I found myself along with 500 other hopefuls in a large ballroom, excited and curious as to what the day would bring.

There was a bit of razzle, and plenty of dazzle but what I noticed was how the Guru, appeared somewhat preoccupied and disengaged from the audience.

Shortly before we broke for morning tea, we were all instructed to take 5 minutes to go and convert some Aussie dollars into greenbacks at one of the several exchange tables that had been set up around the room so we would be ready to play a game on our return.

When we all came back, we were asked if there was anyone present who hadn’t made the exchange.

One hand went up.
When asked why, he explained he didn’t really understand why he was being asked to do this and had simply opted out.

What happened next, shook me to the core.

The Guru went off his face, ranting at the hapless person who was still standing, chastising him for not following instructions, and then told him that because he was not a team player, he had to leave!

He then asked if anyone else had something to say.

Following an awkward pregnant pause, a woman at the back of the room stood up and said, “If my husband has to go, I will go with him.”

The pair were then escorted from the ballroom, visibly upset at being kicked out from the event.

My shock at what I saw as a very public and unfair vilification of this person left me unable to concentrate or take in the training after that.

Reflecting on the day, I understood three things:

  1. If trust has not been established, why would anyone comply with a task that had not been adequately explained as to why it was necessary.
  2. Public humiliation is the worst form of verbal abuse that can be inflicted on anyone.
  3. Fear causes us to stay quiet and not speak up. While many in the room later privately expressed outrage, no one challenged the man in charge.

My biggest insight was how the event shattered my desire to want to learn.

Has something like this ever happened to you?

Have you been pulled apart, humiliated, laughed at or derided in some way in a learning situation?

Sadly, there are many bullies who “hold the stage” when teaching, who think that being offensive, authoritarian, and controlling is the way to keep their students compliant and on task.

Compliance only teaches us obedience. There is no associated love of learning or joy of discovery.

As humans we are drawn to learn new things, to make sense of the changes around us and to continue to successfully adapt.

Your ability to learn, to seek out what is possible, the alternatives and the opportunities is what will guide you the most effectively as we move into the era of living with Covid.

Learning is a fundamental need because it helps you adapt to change and prepare for what may lie ahead.

According to Josh Bersin and Marc Zac-Sanders, 80% of CEOs in the annual global pwc CEO survey believe the need for new skills is their biggest business challenge. While employees see having the opportunity to learn is the second most important factor for greater happiness at work.

Which is why those companies that recognise the importance of constant innovation, and the development of new ideas as vital to their continuing relevance in the market are now focusing on ways to support continuous learning, starting by creating the right environment in which to learn.

 

What are the obstacles to a safe learning environment at work?

• Having too much work to schedule in time for learning.

• Having too little time because you’re in back-to-back meetings for much of the day.

• Being discouraged from learning by your manager or boss

Overcoming these obstacles is not always easy.

But there are some ways that can help.

 

1. Foster a culture of learning.

This can be formal or informal, set up as a small group coming together to discuss a particular topic for a short and defined period.

When your participation is rewarded, and you are encouraged to speak up, you feel safe to contribute and add your voice to the conversation more regularly. This sets up a safe place to learn from each other.

 

2. Re-evaluate how you spend your time at work.

How much time do you currently feel is wasted, either on repetitive tasks that really are no longer necessary or on being expected to show up at a meeting that is not relevant to you and your role?

New research has shown how reducing the amount of time spent in meetings can lower stress, improve productivity, and provide you the headspace required for a short stint of learning.

For example, having three meeting-free days a week can elevate productivity by 73%.

Seriously!

Think of how much more time you now have available to think, learn and discover.

And there’s more.

 

3. Increase your effectiveness at work while lowering the time spent doing it.

This is possible.

Firstly, by ensuring you take regular short breaks across your day of 5-15 minutes to restore mental energy and attention.

That mid-afternoon slump commonly misinterpreted as hunger is often a sign that you need a mental breather, and perhaps a glass of water.

Secondly by ensuring you are working to your strengths.
This is energising and perhaps you’ve noticed when you’re energised you feel more confident in your abilities, less risk-averse and more efficient!

In 2019, Gallup showed how working to your strengths can raise productivity by around 38%.

Are you now feeling ready to move to a 4-day working week that allows more time to study?

 

4. Have the right teacher.

The days of boring training sessions are over. Our new technologies and understanding of the learning process have changed how training is delivered.

My history teacher at school used to ask us to turn to a specific page in our book and leave us to read, while she sloped off to the teachers’ common room for a quick cigarette!

Today learning has been flipped on its head to encourage you the learner to ask the questions that will lead to the discovery and insights that are applicable to what you need to know more about. Online learning has taken off that allows you to learn at your own pace and provides feedback in a constructive and meaningful way.

The right teacher also understands that we all have different learning styles and levels of understanding. When the teacher comes from the place of encouragement, support, and guidance, making the learning fun, you want to do more!

I’m curious to know, how is learning encouraged at your place of work?

 

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.

If thriving in life and work is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.

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