As the first day of school approaches and people’s thoughts turn to fall clothes, school supplies and new things to learn, it’s also a good time for employers to think about learning in their workplace.

Study after study has found that supporting and providing development opportunities for employees has major benefits for everyone involved. The American Psychological Association reports that “the opportunity to gain new skills and experiences can increase employee motivation and job satisfaction, and help workers more effectively manage job stress.” Development opportunities also benefit companies “by enhancing organizational effectiveness and improving work quality, as well as by helping the organization attract and retain top-quality employees.” Those are some pretty big payoffs from such a simple investment.

Now, there’s no one-size-fits-all employee development plan. There are many ways employers can provide personal and professional growth and development opportunities, many of which are as big or as small as the companies themselves. But there are three basic ways any employer can kick-start a business’s learning plan without investing a lot of time or money.

Establish a Learning Culture

The excitement and drive to learn new things must start at the top. Employees need to see that management, from the company executives to the frontline managers, are passionate about growing their knowledge and skills.

Managers should encourage their own employees to continue learning and give them the freedom to acquire new skills through a variety of formats, including online videos, webinars or articles. Growth and development can also be woven into the yearly review and goal-setting process. Each employee should set at least one development goal at the beginning of the year. Then check back around the middle of the year to ensure progress is being made and that the developmental goal hasn’t been pushed aside for something that seems more important.

Host Internal Lunch and Learns

Schedule regular lunch and learn events where employees can learning something new over their lunch break. Whether or not you provide lunch is up to you and your budget, but you don’t have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to bring in subject experts to speak.

Tap into the experts you already have on hand. Ask various departments or team members to host the lunch events and teach on everything from understanding social media to using the latest software version to the basics of invoicing and accounting. These luncheons can just be for personal enrichment or to help employees grow their skills in other work areas they might be interested in going into.

Support Professional Organization Involvement

Be supportive of employees’ professional organizations, whether you can cover the annual membership fee on the employees’ behalf or you just allow them time off to attend meetings. Employees will become even greater experts in their fields as they learn from specialized speakers and network with colleagues at organization events.

Many local organizations also provide opportunities for members to attend nationally-recognized conferences and workshops at discounted rates. And, the more employees who are involved in local organizations, the better known your business will be around the community.

Learning isn’t just for kids returning to school. Everyone needs to continue learning throughout their life to keep from growing placid and out-of-touch, and that includes your employees. Providing opportunities for growth and development will not only help keep workers motivated and satisfied, their growth will fuel your business to reach its full potential.

— Karen Dwyer is owner of Express Employment Professionals, 1025 Chapala St., Suite 206, in Santa Barbara. The opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any outside organization. Click here to contact her or call 805.965.6900.