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The corporate classroom as therapy

I was chatting with a client the other evening after a workshop on blended learning. The client, head of competency development for a large European bank, expressed the opinion to me that a proportion of their employees would miss classroom training if it was to move online, not because of the opportunities the classroom provided for learning or even for networking but because of the respite it provided from the stresses and strains of the day-to-day work, the opportunity to reflect a little away from the 1001 daily calls for their attention.

My response was that although this benefit appeared to be very real, it was a dangerous game for learning and development to play. When the axe starts to fall, could they really justify running what was essentially a form of corporate therapy? The answer was less easy to counter: “Well surely somebody has to do this. It may as well be us.”

Can a classroom event act as therapy? Well, for me it would depend on the subject matter. My client was primarily engaged in soft skills training (or ‘hard skills’ as they jokingly call it) for which the style was likely to be relaxed, informal and non-directive. You can imagine that providing some opportunity for a little quiet reflection, assuming the content wasn’t too new age and pseudo-scientific. But I can hardly imagine anyone regarding a technical workshop as a holiday.

As training shifts from face-to-face to online, from formal to informal, the opportunities for a break from the routine undoubtedly diminish. You may learn more, you may have more control over how, when and where you learn, but you are unable to escape from the reality of daily pressures. A virtual classroom provides no protection from interruptions. A social network is more likely to increase your communication load than to reduce it.

Where does this lead us? Well, in my opinion, and assuming l&d doesn’t get extended with an ‘&t’ (and therapy), then we have to wave goodbye to the idea that we provide an alternative holiday destination. Stress at work is a real problem, but it’s one for management to deal with, not you. If you want to operate at the centre of corporate life, better to add value by the impact you make on performance, not on occupational health.

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