Don’t Put Your Oxygen Mask on First at Work

By John Knotwell

“Put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.”

This airline safety tip has become a rallying cry for those who need to prioritize their own needs over everyone else around them.

It’s also the worst possible advice you could apply as a company. 

Focusing on profits and company goals over your people’s needs is the corporate equivalent of putting on your mask first … Then sitting back and watching the career aspirations of your greatest asset die a little bit every day. That is, until employees get so fed up that they leave your company for those who prioritize their learning, growth, and development.

When the pressure’s on 24/7 to innovate and grow profits, it’s tempting to get caught up in what the company needs to achieve. 

Which skills do we need to fill, like yesterday?

How can we cut costs by 5% next quarter?

What will we do if our product launch is delayed another month?

However, leadership should ignore their survival instincts and focus on what their employees wish to accomplish instead.

This blog outlines the why and how-to of shifting from organization-focused L&D initiatives to those that put people first. 

Fly Higher When You Put Your People First

Focusing on what employees need over what the organization needs is the exact opposite of what logic tells us. The pushback goes something like this:

I understand that employees need more information, but we’re at a critical time right now, and the company requires us to focus on delivering against our bookings target.

Ironically, it’s when companies don’t invest in relevant L&D that workers peace out, citing a lack of career development as one of the main reasons they leave.

On the other hand, when companies value their employees’ needs and goals over their own and invest in people-first L&D, something exciting happens (ok, several). 

Employees: 

  • Bring their whole selves to work every day
  • Are empowered to do their best work
  • Feel understood and valued
  • Receive support from every level of the organization
  • Develop the skills that matter most to their career ambitions
  • Have secure workplace connections and relationships
  • Get celebrated for their wins
  • Become fully engaged (and a force to be reckoned with)

When engagement goes up, the byproduct is often better than the company’s goals could’ve imagined if key leaders started with the organization’s needs in the first place:

  • Profits – up 21%
  • Customer reviews – 10% higher
  • Productivity – 17% boost
  • Turnover – 24% – 59% improvement
  • Theft/shrinkage – 28- reduction
  • Product quality – 40% less defects
  • Absenteeism – 41% fewer sick days
  • Safety incidents – 70% reduction 

Your people can be your competitive advantage. But crushing the KPIs, your board cares about will happen naturally when companies put employees first. From onboarding to exit interviews, employee goals should drive development. 

What does employee-centric L&D look like? 

  • It builds on employee strengths and talents
  • It’s based on the career motivators of every individual
  • It ties personal and professional goals to company objectives
  • It goes beyond “pushing” development content out to empowering employees to take the wheel  
  • It turns learning into an experience through simulations, coaching, peer reviews, discussions, and mentoring
  • It’s less focused on the skillsets needed today and more on transferable skills that employees can take wherever their career journey leads

Whatever goals your company has in mind makes good business sense to tackle them from the bottom up. Thankfully, employees want to be in the driver’s seat of their own development. Why not let them take the lead (so your company can, too)?

But first, do you know whether your LMS can handle employee-centric L&D? Ask these 7 questions to find out.

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