illustration of whole person development cycle

As employee engagement and employee retention become increasing challenges in the workplace, more and more employers are turning to whole person development as a solution.

What companies are getting wrong about employee development

Problem: lack of engagement / professional development/ employee retention

The face of the modern workplace is changing rapidly. With these changes, company leaders are forced to reckon with the challenges of high employee turnover and unmotivated teams. While some employers are taking steps to invest in employee training and development, research shows that not enough is being done, and a lack of employee retention is becoming a major concern for employers. A recent study found that the average cost of losing an employee is a whopping 33% of their annual salary.

Research also points to the reality that many employees do not feel that their employers are invested in their long-term career growth, and this is directly tied to employee retention. A 2018 report from LinkedIn found that 93% of employees would stay at a job longer if it invested in their careers. In addition, the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that 71% of those likely to leave their job in the next two years are dissatisfied with how their leadership skills are being developed.

Even employers that do invest resources in employee development are more focused on traditional professional skills and are overlooking the importance of focusing on both personal and professional skills development in the workplace. 

The answer: whole person development

What is whole person development? Whole person development is an approach that focuses on improving personal and emotional skills, or “soft skills”, in addition to traditional professional skills. Adopting a whole person approach to development means recognizing that true professional development is indeed personal, and that in order for an employee to truly lead and improve others, they must develop as a whole person. Whole person development is the ability for someone to know themselves, know how to improve themselves, know others, and know how to help others improve.

Why whole person development?

A focus on whole person development has several benefits:

  • It builds a high trust environment at work.
    Companies with a high-trust work environment adopt a growth mindset when developing talent, and focus on helping people develop personally as well as professionally. When people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, employee engagement and retention improves greatly. In fact, a survey found that respondents whose companies ranked in the top quartile for high-trust workplaces reported having 106% more energy and were 76% more engaged at work than respondents from companies in the bottom quartile. Organizations can build a high trust work environment by encouraging whole person growth by offering opportunities beyond job-specific skills training and encouraging managers to inquire about an employee’s goals outside of their career.
  • It helps your employees grow as people and as leaders.
    Leadership training has traditionally focused on leading by improving others. But before someone can lead and improve others, they must first develop and improve themselves. They must know themselves and know how to improve themselves before they can know others and know how to improve others. Taking a whole person approach results in deeper development of leaders, because employees are able to work on core skill sets that may not be directly related to their job, but are important to success as a leader within the organization. Believe or not, finding potential leaders with both hard and soft skills can be challenging. A 2015 study from LinkedIn reported that 59% of U.S. hiring managers believe it’s difficult to find candidates with soft skills.
  • It shows employees that they are more than just a number.
    Employees want to feel like they’re more than just their job title or an expendable company asset. Taking an interest in employee development both at work and in their personal lives will make employees feel valued, leading to increased engagement and loyalty that will benefit everyone.

Incorporating whole person development into the workplace means investing in effective, achievable learning and development. Employees should be encouraged to take time to work on both hard and soft professional and personal skills. When companies enable their employees to grow as whole people, they unleash their full potential, which in turn helps the company thrive.