6 Employee Benefits That Promote Learning and Development - Senior Executive

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L&D Strategy 11 min

6 Employee Benefits That Promote Learning and Development

L&D leaders who champion education and professional development benefits can help improve employee retention and talent acquisition efforts while contributing to organizational development objectives.

by Kimberly Valentine on August 29, 2023


  • Eight out of 10 people say they’re likely to stay longer at a company that invests in the education of its employees. 

  • Consider advocating for allocated time for learning during the workweek so employees can engage in your L&D programs, network internally, and learn new skills.

  • Career coaching leads to increased promotion rates, while tuition-free degree programs and student loan repayment benefits build a stronger employee value proposition.

Employee retention is a concern for 93% of organizations, according to LinkedIn’s 2023 Workplace Learning Report. Included in the top five factors that drive an employee to look for a new job are benefits, career growth, and the opportunity to learn and develop new skills. 

For employers who choose to invest in the education of their workforce, eight out of 10 people say they would be more loyal and stay longer at the company, highlighted by a 2022 report by Bright Horizons and EdAssist. Seventy-nine percent would also choose a job based on the education benefits offered. 

As a learning and development leader, you know that initiatives such as mentorship and leadership programs contribute to your organizational development objectives. As you work cross-functionally with the human resources and talent acquisition teams, prioritizing these and other educational benefits can also move the needle for recruitment and retention. 

To develop more robust L&D opportunities for your workforce, check out these six employee benefits companies are offering and consider which ones to advocate for at your own company.

1. Allocated Time for Learning

Gain buy-in from the C-suite to carve out dedicated, meeting-free time during the workweek for employees to engage in learning. Your L&D team can guide how this time is spent by communicating the variety of resources and programs available to employees, such as details about your company’s mentorship program and what courses are on your learning management system. It’s important to decide whether to establish parameters for learning related to career development at the company or if employees can also pursue personal learning interests unrelated to their job. 

The online learning and skill-building company Udemy ensures employees have time for learning in two ways: Focus Blocks and U Days. Focus Blocks are four hours of meeting-free time each week for things like deep thinking, brainstorming, and creative writing. Similarly, U Days are once a month, meeting and Slack-free days, during which employees engage in learning and knowledge-sharing opportunities, such as taking a public speaking course, exploring ChatGPT, or speaking on a topic of expertise at a local school.

Chief learning officer Melissa Daimler explains, “It was really important to provide guidance surrounding how to use the day without being overly prescriptive, as we firmly believe employees should leverage learning to take care of their whole selves, exploring both personal and professional learning curiosities.”

At talent management solutions firm Randstad Sourceright, a quarterly meeting-free week is meant to provide time for employees to engage in career development opportunities, such as taking on stretch assignments to develop new skills, job shadowing, or networking internally. 

Previously, the company offered “Learning Fridays,” but global people experience leader Wesley Connor explains, “We found that dedicating an entire week to meeting-free learning opportunities, rather than confining it to a specific day, has been a game-changer for our workforce.” Since implementing quarterly meeting-free weeks in April 2022, Randstad Sourceright has seen a 60% increase in demand for its internal L&D programs and a 28% increase in participation in its mentorship program. 

2. Career Coaching 

Consider advocating for career coaching as a benefit for employees so that they can home in on their professional development goals. This not only leads to improved retention but also cultivates potential leaders within your organization. 

Work with your executive team and benefits leaders to decide whether you’ll offer this benefit workforce-wide or only to employees participating in leadership development programs, and whether you’ll partner with an outside coaching organization.

At Chipotle, for example, 50 employees take part in the company’s Leadership Evolution And Development (LEAD) program each year and have access to 12 months of career coaching through the company’s partnership with coaching platform BetterUp. Additionally, twice annually, 50 managers are nominated by their leaders and people experience partners to receive six months of career coaching. 

Through this benefit, Eric DiCenzo-Crotallo, Chipotle’s director of talent and learning development, says, “Our leaders have honed their skills, gained valuable insights, and developed the confidence to drive our company’s continued success.” 

Chipotle’s data shows that team members led by managers who have had career coaching receive outstanding performance reviews at a rate of 1.7 times higher than those led by managers who don’t receive coaching. Additionally, coached managers are promoted at a rate of 1.8 times higher than their uncoached counterparts. 

3. Tuition-Free Degree Programs 

Larger corporations are developing programs for employees to pursue college degrees and certifications. If your company has the means, making this investment in your employees speaks volumes about your company’s commitment to education. Plus, it’s likely to have a positive impact on retention and promotion rates and will help you cultivate skilled future leaders. 

Through partnerships with education facilitation company Guild, for example, enterprises such as The Walt Disney Company, Hilton, Chipotle, and Walmart offer tuition-free education. In Walmart’s case, through its Live Better U (LBU) program, more than 104,000 employees have taken courses as of September 2022, and more than 16,000 have graduated with a degree or certificate. According to company data from September 2021, hourly employees who participate in the program have a turnover rate four-times lower and are twice as likely to be promoted. 

At Chipotle, 100% of an employee’s education is covered through select college and university programs approved by the company through its partnership with Guild. Alternatively, employees can opt to receive up to $5,250 in annual tuition reimbursement toward undergraduate and graduate degrees (more on tuition reimbursement below). A company spokesperson shared that crew members who partake in educational assistance benefits are six-times more likely to be promoted into manager positions and employee retention is two-times higher.

Another option is to work directly with higher education institutions to make education more accessible for your employees. An example of this is Starbucks’ partnership with Arizona State University (ASU). The Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP) launched in 2014 and covers 100% of an employee’s college tuition through ASU Online. Full-time and part-time employees in the U.S. who work at least 20 hours per week and have not previously received a bachelor’s degree are eligible. 

SCAP has assisted in the company’s talent acquisition efforts — 20% of people who apply report that the program is a driving reason. It has also increased retention, with SCAP participants staying at the company 50% longer and promoting three-times the average rate of Starbucks’ retail store employees, according to a company spokesperson. So far, more than 10,000 employees have graduated from ASU Online since the program launched.

4. Tuition Assistance

Under the Internal Revenue Service Code 127, employers are able to deduct up to $5,250 per employee, per calendar year, as educational assistance, covering tuition, books, and supplies. While the amount might not cover an employee’s full tuition and expenses, this benefit provides more options to your employees and is less work for your organization.

If your company chooses to provide tuition reimbursement, several decisions will need to be made: 

  • Employee eligibility, including tenure with the company and pay level
  • Whether any course or program is eligible for reimbursement, or only those directly related to an employee’s role or industry sector 
  • Whether tuition payments will be made directly to the institution, or as a reimbursement to the employee before or after course completion 

At HR software company Paycor, the $5,250 annual educational assistance is available to all full-time associates who have been with the company for at least six months. A parameter Paycor set is that employees discuss their area of study with their leader and choose a program that develops their skills for their current role or one they would like to move into at the company. 

“While people can definitely use it for [a] college certification or degree, they can also use it for other certifications or skills that they’re after,” says Paycor’s chief human resources officer Paaras Parker. Over the past year, the company reimbursed educational expenses for 72 employees out of its workforce of 2,300. Parker notes that among recent participants of the program, 55% have either promoted or moved laterally within the company. 

While many companies opt to offer the tax-deductible $5,250 reimbursement amount, the following are examples of other ways companies are providing education reimbursements: 

  • State Farm pays an employee’s higher education institution directly, covering up to $7,500 per year toward undergraduate degrees and up to $10,000 per year for graduate degrees. Employees who have worked with the company for 180 consecutive days and average at least 18 hours per week are eligible. An estimated 2,500 employees participate in the tuition assistance program each year. 
  • Boeing, through its Learning Together Program, pays tuition directly to hundreds of accredited colleges and universities, including approximately 300 partner universities. Eligible from their date of hire, employees can receive assistance of up to $15,000 annually for undergraduate degrees and up to $25,000 annually for graduate degrees; there’s no annual cap for eligible science, tech, engineering, and math degree and certificate programs. A company spokesperson shared that Boeing supports approximately 10,000 employees in the Learning Together Program each year.

5. Student Loan Repayment

Take note: More and more companies are contributing to employees’ student loan payments, acknowledging the steep education costs many undertook in order to be competitive in today’s workforce. This benefit is especially important to consider advocating for if your company lists degree requirements as a qualification for most roles. 

As a talent acquisition strategy, student loan repayment can’t be understated. A 2021 survey by financial advisory firm Betterment found that one in four employees say they would be enticed to leave their company for one that offers student loan payments as a benefit. 

The IRS Service Code 127 tax-exempt amount of $5,250 can be applied annually for each employee under the CARES Act. Consider offering employees flexibility by allowing them to use this amount — or whatever amount you choose — for either tuition reimbursement to pursue a degree or to pay off their student debt.

Here are three examples of how employers are offering student loan repayment benefits: 

  • Chegg contributes $1,000 per year toward student debt payments during an employee’s first two years with the company, as part of their Equity for Education program (established in 2017). After that, employees receive up to an additional $5,000 per year; director and VP-level employees receive up to an additional $3,000, according to a company spokesperson. The contributions are paid directly to the loan service provider once per year and continue until the employee’s student debt is paid off. Employees do not need to have completed a degree to be eligible. Over the seven years, Chegg has contributed nearly $1.5 million, and 25% of program participants have paid off their student loan debt.
  • PwC offers a Student Loan Paydown benefit for associates and senior associates, which is paid directly to the student loan servicer. A company spokesperson shared that the $100 monthly payments continue for up to six years or until the employee promotes to manager, which can potentially reduce participants’ loan principle and interest obligations by as much as $10,000. The benefit was established in 2016, and about one-third of eligible employees at the professional services firm participate. To date, the company has paid $59 million of student debt for nearly 24,000 employees. 
  • Sentara Healthcare has a Student Loan Repayment Benefit program available upon hire to all full-time and part-time employees. The organization contributes up to $400 per month, paid directly to the loan servicer, for a total of $10,000. Loans for associate, bachelor, and graduate degree programs are eligible, as well as certifications and incomplete degrees, as long as they’re from an accredited institution. In place for just over one year, a company spokesperson reports that 6% of employees are participating. 

6. Free Books and Learning Resource Subscriptions

Finally, perhaps the easiest way your company can promote individual learning endeavors is by providing free access to learning platforms such as Udemy or LinkedIn Learning, or subscription reimbursements for Harvard Business Review, MasterClass, or Audible. These benefits allow employees to incorporate learning into their daily lives and in their chosen subject matter. 

For example, marketing automation company Klaviyo offers a $3,000 annual reimbursement for an employee’s learning expenses. This can be used on anything from subscriptions to certifications for personal and professional endeavors. Additionally, the company offers an unlimited free books policy. 

Director of learning and talent development Jim Page says this type of benefit “[takes] down those hurdles and those barriers to give employees access to the learning when they need it, on their terms.” As of August, 64% of Klaviyo’s employees had taken advantage of the free books benefit.

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