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Employee Development in 2023: Why It’s So Important

Everything you need to know about investing in employee development and creating programs that engage your talent

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People leaders often have a full plate. From keeping pace with the latest industry trends to preparing for the future of work, it’s tempting to manage the organization as a unit rather than focusing on the individuals within it. But employee development is a shining example of a people function that must never go on the back burner. It’s the secret ingredient that transforms your workforce into a dynamic, ever-evolving powerhouse ready to tackle the challenges of today and the opportunities of tomorrow. 

This guide examines the benefits of investing in employee development, the different forms of training and upskilling you can offer, and how to build a culture of continuous growth. 

Defining employee development

Employee development is the process of upgrading an employee’s existing skill set or introducing new skills that could support their professional growth while working toward organizational goals. 

Example of employee development in action

Frankie is a marketing manager often tasked with working on specialist campaigns with many moving parts. Her employer suggests she enroll in the Project Manager Professional accreditation path, a recognized program for project leaders. 

Frankie gains the experience and now has a shiny new certification to add to her resume. At the same time, Frankie’s employer can now benefit from her new skills; marketing campaigns run seamlessly, and all resources are allocated thoughtfully with minimal waste. The employee development program is a win-win for both parties. 

Staff development benefits

The latest research finds that developing your workers delivers the following tangible benefits for organizations: 

Increases employee engagement 

Intuitively, employees engaged in their work and company culture will perform better for the organization. This process begins with ensuring that all workers have the skills and experience to perform their jobs well and have access to the right training initiatives. A comprehensive Gallup study reveals that training based on a person’s strengths is inextricably linked to overall employee engagement, achieving the following results: 

  • 9 to 15% increase in employee engagement 
  • 8 to 18% increase in employee performance
  • 14 to 29% increase in profits 

Enhances productivity 

Investing in people development also drives efficiency, ensuring that employees don’t waste time searching for answers but instead produce quality output for their teams. 

The American Society for Training & Development examined the impact of development on productivity by comparing two corporate groups. The first group invested 3x more than the second group, achieving a 57% boost in sales, which was an excellent return on their investment. 

Boosts profits 

The same study above also measured the correlation between employee development and gross profit, with a 37% rise per employee from the corporate group with higher investment levels. 

Improves employee retention 

Work Institute’s 2023 retention report examines the top reasons that employers quit their jobs, with the most common reasons falling under the following categories:

  • Career: Opportunities for growth, promotion, achievement, security, or to attend school
  • Job: Stress, availability of resources, training, job characteristics, empowerment, or products

A recurring theme here is that employees want access to formal development with rich training and promotional opportunities. Offer this, and you’ll have a better chance of hanging onto your staff.

Attracts top candidates 

Employee development will be smoother and more cost-effective when you can attract high-quality candidates excited to explore professional growth opportunities in your organization. 

The great news is that offering employee development programs makes you more likely to attract those who want to succeed. LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report 2023 highlights three of the top five considerations when candidates seek new work. They’re looking for: 

  • Challenging and impactful work
  • Opportunities for career growth within the company
  • Opportunities to learn and develop new skills

7 types of employee development resources

Employee development is an umbrella term encompassing numerous training and upskilling initiatives. Customize your employee development strategy to include the following options based on budget, company size, and your employees’ preferred learning styles. 

On-the-job learning 

Practical tasks happen in the flow of work, so there’s never an issue of stepping away from the workplace to attend a formal course. Instead, managers may assign stretch tasks or special projects to employees to further their learning and equip them with new or deeper skills. 

The key to on-the-job learning is to set employees up for success by providing resources such as guides, data, and access to managerial support as required.


Microlearning refers to bite-sized chunks of content that can be learned in a few minutes, such as e-learning modules or short videos. This employee training format relies on spaced repetition, which is the process of revisiting information often to help employees remember it better. For example, the popular language learning app Duolingo is an excellent example of microlearning. In the workplace, microlearning is valuable when employees need to learn something new quickly, and it’s highly effective for onboarding and refresher training. 

As microlearning is deployed from a digital platform, the admin features also allow you to track employee progress and understand how well they’re absorbing the material, so if an individual requires more help, you can provide additional resources in a timely manner. Chief Operating Officer Michael Wright for Thirst says: 

“Microlearning is the future. You should be embracing it now, especially as the younger generations, who are used to consuming bitesize media, start learning in the workplace. According to RPS Research, microlearning improves focus and supports long-term retention by up to 80%. So drop the old, lengthy, stale videos and embrace new punchier, condensed bitesize videos.” 


Mentoring plays a vital role in personal and professional growth. It refers to the relationship between an employee mentee and an experienced mentor who imparts their knowledge, wisdom, and advice to help the mentee progress in their personal and professional lives. Mentorship is relationship-based and has benefits for both parties. For example, the mentor hones their leadership and interpersonal skills while the mentee gains from the mentor’s experience and guidance. It’s different from coaching, which has a more formal structure and often involves payment.

Best-selling author and leadership keynote speaker Jacob Morgan explains: 

“Mentoring is fluid, without a strict process or methodology. The heart of mentorship lies in the genuine, altruistic desire of a seasoned individual to guide and invest in another’s journey, without the commercial undertones that coaching might have. While both coaching and mentoring have their merits, it’s crucial to recognize the subtle nuances that set them apart.” 

360-degree feedback 

360-degree feedback involves collecting regular insights from those who have interacted closely with an employee, including any mix of the following:  

  • Peers: Colleagues in the same or an adjacent department 
  • Managers: An employee’s regular line manager or supervisor 
  • C-suite execs: People in leadership roles who have worked with the employee 
  • Business partners: Third-party personnel, including contractors who regularly interact with them 
  • Customers: A regular or one-time customer can provide insights into their experience of communicating with the employee
  • Self-appraisal: Employees may also reflect on their performance, which can bring a fresh perspective to development discussions 

These insights are compiled and presented to the employee, with examples of the behavior they should stop, start, and continue doing. Based on these observations, employees can work closely with their managers to set meaningful development goals.

Example: Debra’s 360 feedback reveals that she excels at problem-solving but needs to improve her communication skills. Her development plan includes attending an online course on communication, participating in a stakeholder workshop, and taking part in weekly team discussions. By providing employees with access to the right resources and opportunities, organizations can ensure that their employees have the tools they need to grow professionally. 


Shadowing provides employees with a hands-on, experiential learning opportunity by observing and learning from someone more experienced. This method is particularly valuable when employees need to understand practical nuances, such as job roles, tasks, and responsibilities. 

During shadowing, an employee accompanies a seasoned colleague as they perform their duties. This could be within the same department or even across different areas of the organization. The key is to foster an environment where they can ask questions, hold discussions, and gain insights.

Shadowing also encourages cross-functional understanding, allowing employees to grasp the interconnectedness of various roles within the company. It’s a fantastic way to facilitate organic knowledge transfer and promote collaboration.


Networking within an employee development context involves facilitating connections and interactions between employees, both internally and externally. Employee resource groups are a great example of internal networking. ERGs are communities formed by employees with common backgrounds, interests, or goals. These groups provide a platform for knowledge sharing, support, and collaboration across different parts of the organization.

Alternatively, external networking involves participation in industry events, conferences, seminars, and workshops. Encouraging employees to engage with professionals outside the company can broaden their perspectives, expose them to new ideas, and facilitate the exchange of best practices.

Structured learning 

Structured learning encompasses formal educational opportunities such as courses, workshops, seminars, and conferences. These events are often led by subject matter experts and provide a structured curriculum to enhance employees’ skills and knowledge in specific areas.

Select structured learning opportunities based on your organization’s goals and employees’ individual development plans. By investing in these formal learning avenues, companies demonstrate their commitment to continuous growth and development.

How to implement employee development in your organization

These steps are suitable if this is your first time implementing employee development programs but can also be used in existing businesses if you want to overhaul organizational growth. 

1. Assess current needs  

Begin by identifying the skills and competencies essential for your organization’s growth. You can use a skills gap analysis to measure the distance between your employee’s current skills and strengths vs. your business’s requirements. This step acts as an essential benchmark for your entire employee development program. 

2. Set clear objectives

Define specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) development objectives for each employee. Align these objectives with the organization’s overall goals to ensure they contribute to its success. 

SMART goal example: By the end of the fiscal year, our organization aims to improve mid-level managers’ leadership skills, as measured by a 15% increase in leadership effectiveness scores from 360-degree feedback surveys. This goal is attainable through a 12-month development program providing managers with tailored leadership training, mentorship, coaching, and support, aligning with our strategic objective to nurture internal talent.

3. Develop personalized plans 

Access to their own employee development plan demonstrates that the company is invested in each person on an individual level. Work with employees to create individual career development plans, which should include: 

  • Details about the employee’s strengths and areas for improvement 
  • The employee’s long-term career aspirations such as reaching a specific leadership position, transitioning to a different role, or acquiring a new skill set
  • Skill enhancement plans, including specific training programs, certifications, or new responsibilities within their current role 
  • Performance feedback from supervisors, peers, or self-assessment 
  • Resources required for the employee’s development, including budget for training, access to mentors, etc. 
  • Work-life balance consideration to ensure that the development doesn’t negatively impact the employees’ personal and professional lives 
  • Timelines to determine when each milestone or goal in the development plan should be completed

4. Provide training opportunities 

Offer a variety of training options, considering both internal and external resources to provide a well-rounded learning experience. But don’t forget to offer time and space for employees to access your training. Ariel Mendes, HR Global Learning and Development Leader at Rock Content, explains that the time investment is worth it in terms of performance: 

“Since we started, we have seen many employees double the amount of time they spend learning each week. At first, we worried that employees would spend too much time learning and not deliver on their jobs. We have found the opposite to be true: People who are top learners are also top performers. And those top performers are helping build a stronger employer brand name and share what they learn with other employees.”

5. Recognize and reward progress 

Acknowledge and celebrate employees’ achievements in their development journeys by praising them on both an individual level and in front of the rest of the team. Setting up a formal rewards and recognition program enables you to appreciate employees’ hard work and dedication to their development. 

This process motivates employees and reinforces the importance of development within the organization. Employees who see their efforts acknowledged and celebrated through employee recognition programs are more likely to stay engaged and committed to their growth journey.

6. Lean on technology 

Technology is key to modern employee development, enabling organizations to provide flexible, self-paced learning opportunities. Learning experience platforms (LXPs), learning management systems (LMS), and online resources make learning convenient and accessible for employees. 

Learners can track their progress, complete assessments, and collaborate with peers in virtual classrooms. By embracing technology, organizations can also cater to different learning styles and preferences, making it easier for employees to learn continuously.

7. Build a continuous learning culture 

Embed learning into the organization’s values by promoting a culture that values personal and professional growth. Leaders should set an example by engaging in their development journeys and openly sharing their experiences. When employees see their leaders committed to learning, it encourages them to commit to their own professional development opportunities.

Encourage knowledge-sharing and peer-to-peer learning within the workplace, using 1:1 sessions, mentorship programs, or communities of practice where employees can discuss industry trends and exchange insights. The goal is to create an environment where learning is not a one-time event but an ongoing part of the company’s DNA.

8. Monitor and adjust your employee programs 

Regularly review the effectiveness of your employee development initiatives, then use data and feedback to make necessary adjustments and improvements. This involves: 

  • Assessing the impact of training programs on SMART goals (for example, is employee retention improving?) 
  • Evaluating the relevance of development plans in relation to industry changes and your evolving skills needs 
  • Tracking employee satisfaction with the resources and opportunities provided by sending out regular pulse surveys and documenting feedback interviews 

By continuously monitoring and adjusting your strategies, you can ensure that your employee development efforts align with organizational goals and evolving employee needs.

Kickstart professional employee development with Benepass

The easiest way to achieve employee growth is via a professional development stipend like the Benepass Professional Development Account, which empowers your employees to take charge of their career advancement. Employers assign money to the account, and employees decide how to spend it in a relevant way for their careers. Here’s how three employees may use the program: 

  • Tess, age 32, from Miami, uses the program to pay for coding classes at her local university. 
  • Andres, age 39, from Madrid, Spain, uses the funds to pay for his CFA exam fees, a necessity for his career in finance. 
  • Jared, age 29, from Nashville, pays for career coaching with BetterUp. 

Setting up a Professional Development Account with Benepass is a four-step process: 

  1. You’ll define eligible spending categories such as conference fees, courses, workshops, mentorships, coursework, and more. 
  2. We’ll code your unique policy into the Benepass platform and Visa Benecards. 
  3. We’ll connect to your payroll system to automate enrollment. 
  4. You’ll invite your employees to join Benepass and start enhancing their careers. 

Ready to level up employee growth in your organization? Book a free Benepass demo today. 

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Rebecca Noori

Rebecca Noori is a freelance HR Tech and SaaS writer who is obsessed with our world of work. She writes about everything from employee benefits and performance management to upskilling and productivity tips. When she's not writing, you'll find her grappling with phonics homework and football kits, looking after her three kids.

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