Many organizations combine learning with performance goals: Learn x so you can accomplish y. But research shows that, in formal training programs, organizations would be better served by separating the two.

The research

A team of European researchers looked at over 150 IT professionals. They deliberately chose IT because it’s a field where workers must constantly learn in order to keep up. The researchers interviewed participants about the training they received from their company: the overall quality, whether the training met their expectations, and how loyal and positive they currently felt toward their employer.

The study found that the more training opportunities the workers received, the more satisfied and committed they were to their company.

The research suggests that organizations that provide career development opportunities aren’t just benefiting from a more skilled workforce; they’re increasing employees’ commitment to the company. And increased employee loyalty can translate into workers who commit more discretionary effort, and are more productive and less likely to leave.

But there’s a catch…

The loyalty boost didn’t happen from just any old training. The study found that some training programs had no effect on loyalty whatsoever. What made the difference: Whether or not training was connected to performance goals.

If employees felt that training opportunities were all about hitting certain goals, goodwill and commitment went right out the window. It was only when employees felt that the organization was investing in them, and were interested in keep them around for the long-term, that loyalty shot up.

The researchers concluded that, “employees may view an effective training experience as an indication that the [employer] is willing to invest in them and cares about them.”


The study suggests that “no-strings-attached” training opportunities communicate something valuable – that the employer cares about employees’ careers and sees them as people worthy of investing in. This perceived commitment from an employer leads to the increase in loyalty. By tying performance goals into the training process, organizations muddy the waters and turn a perceived benefit into a requirement with consequences.

Earlier research has shown that employers are better served by setting two types of employee goals – performance goals and learning goals – and that these should be independent of each other. This way, employees can learn without the pressure of an impending quota or goal hanging over their head, which is a better way to learn. And it’s a better way to get employees to stay with your organization.

Fontinha, R., et al. (2014). Training and the commitment of outsourced information technologies’ workers: Psychological contract fulfillment as a mediator. Journal of Career Development, 41(4), 321-340.

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