Good employers are always looking for new ways to engage employees and promote professional development. Throughout the years, lunch and learn programs have become a popular way of doing this. A lunch and learn is an informal training for employees. Mindtools.com points out that lunch and learns are voluntary and bring people together from across the organization.
Lunch and learns are important because they provide a forum for employees to discuss topics that might not otherwise be addressed. If you design your lunch and learn efficiently, you may even find that employees are using the program to improve their skills, offering valuable insights about what they’d like to see next in the program, and telling others about it so they can join in, too.
Lunch and learns are also important because they:
Boost employee morale
Help employees feel valued
Promote professional development
Foster cross-functional discussions
Create a space to get (and give) useful feedback
Enable employees to meet team members from other departments
Encourage employees to increase public speaking skills and collaborate more effectively
How to create a successful lunch and learn
There are no hard-and-fast rules to creating a successful lunch and learn. After all, your lunch and learn program should be tailored to the specific needs and preferences of your employees. Still, you can follow six key guidelines to ensuring your lunch and learn program is successful:
1. Gain buy-in before you start
In many cases, getting the right people on board early on prevents any issues with the program down the line. Decide who you need to consult, seek feedback from employees, and be sure to include HR. Whether you plan to have the HR department run the program or simply advise on what works best, you will find that their input is invaluable when it comes to potential topics, compliance, employee issues, and more.
Read more: 6 Times You Should Talk to Human Resources
2. Schedule wisely
Lunch and learns typically take place during the lunch hour, which is around noon for most employees. Unless there is a time of day that has proven to be more popular with your employees, stick with this timeframe. Try to avoid scheduling the program near holidays or during peak periods, such as the start of a new fiscal year. Doing so could negatively impact employee attendance.
3. Prepare to moderate the conversation (or, designate a moderator)
While you don’t need a formal host, it’s helpful to have someone to facilitate discussions. You can fill that role yourself or designate a specific team member. You can also assign the role to multiple team members on a rotating basis, which can help engage lunch and learn attendees and get them excited about the program. If possible, bring in people who can answer questions about company policy and employee matters, such as an HR administrator or employee relations specialist.
4. Choose a compelling incentive
Generally, employers provide free lunch for employees during lunch and learns. However, if this is not an option (or, you’re already doing this), think about another incentive, such as giveaways, mentorship, or in-demand skills training. According to Indeed, some in-demand workforce skills include cloud computing, people management, UX design, and creativity.
5. Avoid making it too structured
The most successful lunch and learn programs are more casual than formal trainings. Avoid making the lunch and learn mandatory for employees. In addition, skip topics that employees are required to learn about, such as discrimination, sexual harassment, or work safety.
6. Promote, promote, promote
Employees cannot attend a lunch and learn they don’t know about! Start marketing the program at least two to three weeks before it is scheduled. Remind people to attend by email, through Slack, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, or another platform your company uses, or posting on a community bulletin board if your team doesn’t have access to email. You can also announce it during your team’s next meeting.
How will I know if my lunch and learn is successful?
In order to determine whether your lunch and learn is successful, decide what success looks like based on your company size, employee needs, and goals you’ve set for the program. Direct measures of success are those that you can assess on your own; these tend to be more obvious. Indirect measures of success are less obvious signs that your lunch and learn program is successful.
Examples of direct measures of success:
Employee feedback (via emails, surveys, or word-of-mouth) is positive
A member of the leadership team has asked you to keep the program going
Attendance remains steady or increases within the first year
Examples of indirect measures of success:
Employees appear to be enjoying themselves at the lunch and learn
People mention what they’ve learned in other settings (team meetings, performance evaluations, staff retreats, etc.)
You’ve received additional funding for the program
Increased productivity among lunch and learn attendees
Starter topics for your lunch and learn
You can design your lunch and learn program around almost any topic that is relevant, interesting, and appropriate. Your best topics will come from your own employees, but here are a few to get you started:
How to build your resume
Effective ways to foster diversity and inclusion
Improving time management
Practicing healthy eating habits while quarantined
Cross-training: Learning new skills from team members in other departments
Industry trends that impact service delivery
Best practices in good money management (try achieving financial literacy)
Hosting a remote lunch and learn
Traditionally, lunch and learns have been hosted in-person. However, these convenient alternatives to traditional work trainings can also take place remotely. The keys to hosting a successful lunch and learn remotely are to choose the right medium, log in early to troubleshoot technical issues, and be sure not to leave anyone out.
In addition to the sample topics listed above, you can present these topics that relate specifically to remote work:
One good rule of thumb for remote and in-person lunch and learn programs is to bring in a guest speaker. Even if you only do it for one or two sessions per year, inviting an industry leader or subject matter expert can really enhance your program.