Keeping employees productive, engaged, and satisfied makes sense for a wide range of reasons. In fact, questions involving employee engagement filter throughout Gallup's annual State of the American Workplace report. Yet as LinkedIn Learning's 2018 Workplace Learning Report notes, one of the most obvious ways to retain talent is often overlooked: employer-promoted career development.

A whopping 94 percent of respondents to the LinkedIn survey agreed that they would be less likely to leave a company that offered them development opportunities. Regrettably, as Gallup's numbers show, only 30 percent of employees enjoy this manager-driven development and career growth.

The more effort businesses put into training their workers for the career challenges of today and tomorrow, the more likely those workers will be to stick around for the long haul.

Trading education for loyalty

Organizations are discovering that employees want more than free coffee and snacks -- or even unlimited paid time off -- as incentives for loyalty. They want the chance to improve their relevance in an increasingly competitive marketplace. And they are ready to do it by treating their job environment as a dual workspace-classroom.

According to Gallup, professional development is what turns a job into a career. Gallup's survey participants were asked whether they were given annual chances to grow, but only four out of 10 strongly agreed that they had development opportunities provided by their employers. This figure is alarming, given that we live in a time of ample virtual and remote training options, not to mention vast stores of legacy and real-time knowledge.

In the coming years, our global economy will face several skills gaps, including ones related to technology and so-called "soft" skills. Employers focused on closing identified gaps head-on by engaging their team members in consistent training and development will set themselves apart. Those that do not will have trouble wooing star players. From tuition assistance to formal industry mentoring, almost any type of positive growth opportunity will head off stagnation and stop employees from feeling that their only good career choice is to leave.

Offering employees paths to enlightenment

Want to start giving your workers the professional development they crave? Start engaging with them by changing the way you approach knowledge cross-pollination in your ranks.

1. Grow leaders from the inside.

Begin identifying and training your strongest people to become the next generation of executives and managers, a la JPMorgan Chase's Leadership Edge program. The formal program ensures that individuals coming up through the ranks develop into impactful leaders, both enabling them to meet their career goals and ensuring that they have the tools to develop their employees as well. The benefits reciprocate down the talent pipeline, especially considering that more than half of people told LinkedIn Learning they would concentrate on their development if encouraged by a supervisor.

Not sure that your workforce is large enough to support a full-blown program? Consider platforms with their own robust curriculums like CreativeLive for Business, an innovative training resource. CreativeLive's catalog includes coursework on creativity, emotional intelligence, design thinking, leadership, and more. Programs like this enable your people to pick and choose the right workshops for their needs and interests. 

2. Delve into gamer realms.

Forget adding new PowerPoint slides to your current training program and calling it a day. Instead, try truly gamified professional learning programs, which your workers will actually appreciate. After all, almost half of them probably play video games already, according to Pew Research Center. Gamification promotes both a sense of competition and camaraderie when handled well. It can also allow everyone to move at their own pace, as well as earn points or certifications most relevant to their roles.

What are the other upsides of all this gamification at work? According to one academic study that compared instructional and simulation game-based training, gaming boosts self-efficiency by 20 percent, knowledge retention by 9 percent, and procedural know-how by 14 percent. In other words, a little play can have serious positive results.

3. Foster knowledge transference.

Peer-to-peer programs such as the famous Googler to Googler network allow employees to share what they know with one another. At your company, you may consider arranging for on-site classes on topics ranging from coding to public speaking, for example. Remember that peer-led courses do not have to be related to business thinking or practices to make them valuable: One of Google's most talked-about classes focused on establishing a state of mindfulness.

By urging personnel to share what they know, you set up a corporate culture where all learning is embraced. And you can never anticipate how far-reaching a course could be. Who knows? A customer service representative who attends a peer-instructed class on creative writing may one day be your strongest marketer. Plus, the workers who teach classes get a chance to show off the breadth of their skill sets and add instruction to their résumés.

Everyone in your workplace contributes in some way to the whole. The more each person knows, the richer your organization will become. Explore the possibilities that come from having a more formally and informally educated workforce. Not only will your people hang around to see what happens next, but they will use their newfound abilities to accomplish more inspired work.