Need More Committed Employees? Cultivate Career Development.

Recently, several of our corporate clients have asked us to help them address the issue of employee commitment. We aren’t at all surprised by these requests. Changing business needs, along with demographic shifts in the workforce—older workers leaving and younger, much more diverse workers taking their places—are creating new work environments with both positive and negative attributes.

Employers are looking for people who take personal responsibility for their jobs and don’t wait for the company or their bosses to motivate and engage them at work. Employees want respect and a place where they can grow and use their strengths doing work that matters to them. The result can be disheartening for both employers and employees. We all know that employee engagement is a big problem; there are many reasons for the high numbers of disengaged workers (71% in the most recent Gallup surveys), but companies are having a hard time finding a cure. It’s not about higher pay; survey after survey shows that income levels don’t correlate with engagement, nor do other “obvious” answers. 

So what works? How can we help our employees feel a greater sense of purpose and commitment?

A clear finding for us and for many others working in the field of employee development and engagement is that cultivating career development makes a big difference. According to Gallup (2008) “lack of career advancement or promotional opportunities is cited by 32% of respondents as the #1 reason for leaving.” In a more recent study, Aon Hewitt's 2012 Global Engagement report, an analysis of employee engagement trends in more than 3,100 organizations representing 9.7 million employees worldwide, found that for the fourth consecutive year--globally, as well as across all regions--career opportunities remained the top driver to positively impact overall engagement levels.

In the new book “Watch Them Grow or See Them Go”, author Beverly Kaye makes the point that, “despite economic conditions, unemployment levels, or any other business factor imaginable, your best employees – the ones you need most – want one thing from you, plain and simple: to support their growth and career development.” 

In addition to all the research showing the connection between employee engagement and career development, it also makes common sense.  People really do care about their jobs and almost everyone wants a career that offers a decent living and enables them to make a positive contribution with their life’s work. Whether employees are on track for promotion, if they’re concerned about their “fit” within the organization, or if they want to know how they can continue to be vital contributors in their later career stages, career development initiatives pay big dividends. As employers help people grow, they gain more engaged, satisfied employees who take pride and personal responsibility. It’s a win/win!

What are your plans to cultivate career development in your organization?  We'd love to hear what you're doing!

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  1. Kim's avatar
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    As an employee I must admit that I gravitate to employers and managers who help me grow and develop professionally. I wholeheartedly agree that it is a driver in my engagement with an employeer.
  2. Sam's avatar
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    Kim, I would definitely agree with you. As someone who is fairly new to the workforce, it was very important to me to find an employer who would support my growth and development in a new role. How does your organization demonstrate commitment to career development to young talent?
  3. Nicole's avatar
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    They say I'm a typical GenY and indeed, if I don't learn and have opportunities to grow, I'm looking around very quickly. I'm very fortunate I am currently working at a company where career development is embedded in the culture!
  4. Deb Magnuson's avatar
    Deb Magnuson
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    Nicole, thanks for your comment about the connection between Gen Y retention and career development opportunities. More than any other group, younger employees indicate that growing their professional skills is key to work satisfaction and engagement. I remember a young workshop participant in L.A. telling the story of when she asked her boss what she needed to do to be considered for promotion, and the response was "be patient". The outcome? She was in a new job within 60 days. Watch out employers, and be ready to help them grow!

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