Kids are back to school, what are YOU doing to learn?

The beaches are empty, there’s a nip in the air and my kids are miserable – school MUST be back in session. Like most people, I LOVE the summer. Even though I am fully employed and don’t really get to spend more time with my kids during the dog days, I find it comforting to not have to rush around every morning making lunches and scrambling to make sure my kids are at the bus stop on time. Even though there are summer camps and other summer activities to consider, I can honestly say that for roughly 10 weeks the stress level in my home is considerably lower thanks to summer break. Theoretically, the formal learning is not supposed to stop, with summer reading programs and prep work for the next grade, but let’s face it, that’s the last thing most kids are focused on in July and August.

However, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon as Labor Day begins to approach, notably, the stress level in the home once again begins to climb and anxiety begins to set in. Not just for my kids, but for my wife and I as well. This anxiety for my kids is completely normal, I mean, new teachers, new classes, new classmates, more homework, etc… but why are the grown ups so anxious? Some of it is probably chalked up to having to establish new routines and schedules for our kids, but I would argue that it’s much more than that. I’ve actually had this conversation with friends of mine that have no kids and they agree, right around Labor Day there is a heightened sense of anxiety. As I began to dig into this, I realized that there are several factors that add to our stress level as working adults come September that consequently have nothing to do with kids returning to school. I spoke to people in varying industries and these were the top 3 reasons they feel even more stress in September than other months of the year…

  • “The personal development goals that were set in January that I haven’t yet satisfied are quickly coming to an end.”
  • “I am responsible for a budget with an upcoming fiscal year end, and I have little time to contract and spend any remaining funds or I risk losing them and potentially won’t get them renewed for next year’s budget.”
  • “My employer assigned a minimum amount of mandatory training that I must complete by the end of the year and time is running out.”

These are probably not what you expected, unless of course, you feel the same way. The good news is, there are easy answers to these concerns. No, I don’t have a time machine that can bounce you back to the first quarter, but I will say there’s still time to successfully meet these obligations. For what it’s worth, here’s some advice…

  • Personal Development Goals: Hopefully you have set SMART goals for your personal development that have a due date on them. Even if you haven’t successfully met those dates OR if you haven’t set formal SMART goals, you should do it now. If your fiscal year end is December 31st, you may feel like you have a full three months to complete your personal goals – you don’t! With all of the fun holiday distractions between now and year-end, you really only have about fifty working days to complete them. Mark a date on your calendar and get to work. The last thing you want is to get to your year-end performance appraisal and get “dinged” for not completing a personal goal or goals that you likely created (thank you Captain Obvious!)
  • Budget: Full disclosure, I am writing this from a supplier standpoint, so this one seems easy to me. However, I spent over 20 years on the “buyer” side and I can definitely relate to this concern. In my previous worlds, if I hadn’t spent my entire budget by year-end, the powers that be (Finance, Procurement, AP, etc.) would look at it as a “slush” fund and make the determination that I didn’t really need those funds. Rather than being happy that I was fiscally responsible, they looked at it as an opportunity to take that money back and NOT fund it going forward – essentially ending up in a year over year decline in my budget. Trust me, I never let that happen. If you are holding onto those rainy day funds this late in the year, take a look at your learning strategy and ask yourself “What’s missing?” or even better, “What can I do to take that anxiety away from my learners and help them satisfy their learning goals before the year ends?” Think about it, if you are experiencing anxiety over completing your learning goals as a learning leader, it is likely that other employees are as well. Also, in the spirit of “What have you done for me lately?”, you have an opportunity to WOW your audience of learners with something new and exciting that might get them motivated to complete their learning and create a buzz to start the new year. The easy way to satisfy this concern is to work with your current vendors and introduce their “latest and greatest” content or technology, that way you can leverage existing contracts and be able to deliver immediately. Another option is to look for a flexible and nimble smaller training provider that you can contract with quickly to introduce new ideas into your learning ecosystem like micro-learning or video.
  • Mandatory Training: If you haven’t completed your mandatory training yet, fear not. This is the last one that most people end up completing as there are usually strict end dates and, unfortunately, these types of training usually end up being the most boring. Similar to your personal goals, this is one that MUST be done or you risk a negative mark on your annual review, or worse. Stating the obvious once again, you should write down the due dates for your mandatory training, schedule an appointment on your calendar that is at least a week before the due date(s) and complete the training. Look at this appointment as a non-negotiable, mandatory meeting – as if you were asked to meet with the CEO of your company. It is that important and should be treated as such.

Let’s face it, Autumn is here and the year is quickly slipping away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn. Get in the back to school spirit, create a fun learning culture and relieve your employees of that anxious feeling we all have this time of year.

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