In an effort to retain key talent, organizations have been focusing on making changes to the workplace environment and improving relationships between team members and managers. Yet a new survey of American workers reveals that career development remains the most important retention factor with nearly two thirds (64 percent) saying they would leave their job in 2022 due to a lack of growth, training, and development opportunities.
It’s no secret that organizations have been impacted by an unprecedented—and rapidly changing—confluence of events since March of 2020. We’ve witnessed a global pandemic unlike any the world has experienced in over 100 years, which triggered a severe recession – only to see that recension flip, within 18 months, into one of the “hottest” talent markets in recent memory. The unemployment rate went from a high of 14.7% in April 2020—the highest rate in US history—to the current rate of 3.9% and we find ourselves in the midst of the “Great Resignation.”
The raw numbers attached to the Great Resignation can be daunting. In November 2021, for example, 4.5 million workers resigned—3% of the total US workforce, an all-time high. On average, 3.95 million employees resigned each month in 2021, and the labor force participation rate declined to 61.8%, the lowest rate in 40 years. Personal health concerns, caregiving, and work/life balance contributed substantially to the reasons for this churn. Yes, these statistics can be daunting. But as is often the case, when one probes a bit deeper, some common themes emerge.
While some new workforce challenges have emerged over the past two years – notably, the impact of remote & hybrid work and helping employees address work/life balance – the core career and talent management issues HR leaders have always focused on remain critical to an organizations’ success: ensuring the right people are in the right roles, creating opportunities for internal talent mobility and employee development, and designing a work environment that ensures “stickiness” and encourages retention. And here’s the best news – an effective and positive approach is readily available to HR and organizational leaders. Focusing on employee development and helping employees navigate their career journey will help companies achieve their talent management objectives.
Why career management? A career is the most important asset an individual has. Our “career capital”—the unique combination of our skills, experience, and savvy—is how individuals create value for themselves and enables them to contribute to organizational success. Promoting and encouraging career and employee development is a critical link in creating a positive employee experience and strengthening employee engagement, or “stickiness;”; organizations that pay attention to employees’ careers create an incentive to stay.
Yet, many companies have abdicated the responsibility for career management to individual employees and have done little to support or guide employees on their career journey. How often have we heard a company tout that “employees are our most important asset,” yet a closer look reveals the company has done little to encourage internal talent movement and employees lack basic career management skills. And while designing and implementing a career development plan may feel complicated, it doesn’t need to be. Here are several key practices that any company can adopt, regardless of size, budget, or other resources:
- Appreciate the importance of “career capital.” Remember, it is through career capital that an employee contributes to organizational outcomes. Companies that invest in career capital – through employee development programs – recognize the win-win for all parties.
- Reinforce the importance of feedback and career discussions. Leaders need to be deeply invested in providing regular feedback and there needs to be rewards for individual learning and skill development.
- Assess how “career spillover” may be impacting your organization. A reality is that all organizations only have so many roles available, particularly at senior levels. Career spillover occurs when employees remain in a role too long, creating bottlenecks for development and career pathing—and a disincentive to stay with the company. HR leaders can think about creating new opportunities through job rotations or other developmental assignments.
- Emphasize a “career lattice” approach. A lattice approach – instead of a traditional career path model – encourages and facilitates multi-directional career movement. Perhaps a company can’t create more “slots” or promotional opportunities, but you can still create new learning experiences and career journeys with lateral movements, job rotations, cross-functional project team assignments, and so on.
- Emphasize skill growth rather than title growth. Use workforce planning to identify key competencies that your organization will require over the next 2-3 years and create programming to encourage skill and competency development ( and pay programs to support this).
- Prevent talent “hoarding.” Seek to facilitate internal talent mobility by encouraging movement across your company. Reward leaders who promote, rotate, and develop their employees, particularly those leaders who facilitate employee movement to a new role in another part of the firm. Acknowledging and rewarding these leadership behaviors will help immeasurably in creating a culture that prizes internal talent mobility.
- Promote trust. Employees need to know their managers will be ok with their desire to pursue careers outside of their current job; trust and psychological safety need to be built, encouraged, and reinforced.
Career stewardship is about being purposeful and proactive in taking ownership of your career. And we all are ultimately responsible for building and nurturing our own career capital and being capable career stewards. But there is a quote from the movie “Jerry McGuire” that is also relevant – “help me help you.” Savvy organizations recognize that there is tremendous value in helping their employees become more capable career stewards, and they do so by investing in employee career development programs. So, are you helping employees by investing in them so that they , in turn, can help the company achieve its goals?
Senior Consulting Advisor
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