House-bound employees want to work on themselves
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House-bound employees want to work on themselves

It’s a well-used story line in literature, TV and movies: the prisoner serving a long sentence dedicates his time to building up his physique, learning a musical instrument or earning a law degree by correspondence.

If you stop to think about it, maybe something similar is going on with your employees stuck at home during the pandemic. And maybe your learning and development offerings should reflect the way they want to work on themselves.

That’s what came to me as I read through the 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report from Udemy, a provider of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).


According to Udemy, the biggest enrollment increases in its courses for businesses over the past year have come in the area of “self-mastery.” This heading includes such topics as mental health and wellness skills, along with productivity skills and habits.

Now, Udemy doesn’t explicitly connect the dots between self-mastery and the pandemic. Rather, it speaks of a time of “uncertainty.” But it’s not hard to make the connection.

When people are in what used to be the normal office setting, they have all kinds of ways to avoid the painful necessity of focusing on themselves and their engagement with their work. If you’re finding that knotty report too hard to concentrate on, you can stroll over to your neighbor’s cubicle for a chat. Or you can go to the lunchroom and inspect the bulletin board for items that co-workers are selling. Point is, there are a lot of distractions available.

But when you’re working all alone in your basement, it’s much harder to avoid you. You’re more likely to think about whether your concentration level is adequate, or whether you’re being productive enough, or even whether you’re anywhere close to getting in your 10,000 steps for the day, given that you have to do them all in and around the house.

Managing anxiety, stress, and time

That’s when the drive for self-mastery kicks in – when you assess yourself and find yourself wanting.

And apparently organizations are responding to this kind of employee demand. Udemy Business reports experiencing a four-digit percentage increase in enrollment for courses in anxiety management, stress management, and resilience. Not far behind, in the high three digits, were courses in meditation and mindfulness.

In productivity skills, there were triple-digit increases in courses ranging from time management to motivation to self-discipline to memory to goal achievement.

A fundamental shift

Describing what’s going on, Udemy speaks of a “fundamental shift to focusing on the whole employee, rather than simply the technical skills related to their outputs or deliverables.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying organizations should slack off their emphasis on improving employees’ skills in areas directly related to their jobs, or skills that relate to communication and collaboration with others. These remain very important.

But it seems likely that in this unsettled time, your people are very eager to improve their personal development. The learning and development opportunities you offer them should probably reflect that.

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