Learning in the Workplace: A New Year’s Resolution Story


An excerpt from a recent conversation with my husband:

Pete: My New Year’s resolution for work is to start using the learning site they provide access to. They have a bunch of courses that look pretty good. And, my new boss told me it was important; she’s really trying to encourage us to keep our skills up-to-date. It’s nice.

Me: Are you going to learn the materials by yourself?

Pete: Yes, I just need to carve out some time to work on it at night.

Me: And you said your boss really wants you to make this part of your goals for the year?

Pete: Yes, she’s been very encouraging.

Me: (pause) I don’t think you’ll do it…

Pete: (weakly) I will...


Why don’t I think my husband will follow through with his New Year’s resolution? No accountability. If he had someone – or even better, a group of people -- to do it with him, he’d stand a chance.

Multiple studies have shown over the years that social pressure works in dieting, exercising, donating, and a myriad of other human activities. As one Nature article about a study involving runners’ social networks states, “Exercise… is socially contagious.” The November Project takes this idea to a whole new level (great Wired piece here) by publicly shaming people who don’t show up to workouts they have previously committed to. More passively, even people who participate in the social networks associated with health apps tend to be more fit. So, while wearing a fitness tracking device may not do much to boost your fitness, joining the social network of the app that came with it probably will.

Couldn’t this same theory apply to learning? In my husband’s case, I think so. And to take it one step further (but not like the November Project!) and because his supportive boss said it was important, why not have employee learning time incorporated into the work day, creating an atmosphere of learning that is “socially contagious”? That way, learning becomes something my husband can do during common work hours, with his teammates. No need to carve out time at night. No trying to fit everything in.

Consideration for company leadership: if you have initiatives or organizational goals around learning or “up-skilling”, go beyond encouraging — create the environment for people to learn together and work collaboratively on those goals. This will increase the odds that people will actually engage in and complete course materials and that new skills and ideas will be incorporated into how you work as an organization.