Following a tumultuous year wrought by the pandemic in 2020, many employees are facing burnout and employers are looking for new ways create an engaging, employee-first experience. Recent research from The Conference Board shows that 60% of US workers rank mental wellbeing – specifically stress and burnout – as a top workplace concern. With stress on the rise, organizations face the risk of employees leaving the company for new opportunities elsewhere.
According to a recent study from Achievers Workforce Institute, more than half of employees surveyed (52%) plan to job hunt in 2021, up from 35% in 2020. The same survey found that only 21% of employees are ‘very engaged.’ Additionally, data from Prudential Financial found that of employees who are planning to look for a new job in 2021, ‘mobility opportunities’ rank as a top factor that would encourage them to stay with their current employer. By creating a culture that encourages career growth and mobility, your organization can improve employee engagement and retention, driving workforce agility as a result. Below, we’ve outlined three ways for your team to support career growth.
promotions and lateral moves
When employees think about career growth opportunities, the first option that often comes to mind is a promotion – either with their current company or externally. A promotion can lead to a bump in both pay and title and, when an employee is promoted internally, they often gain greater visibility, responsibility and recognition across the organization. But another way for employees to transition roles and develop their skills along the way is through lateral moves.
While a lateral move might not have the pay raise or boost in title that a promotion offers, it’s still a growth opportunity and offers a variety of benefits to both the organization and employees. As organizations move away from focusing exclusively on roles – and expecting employees to fit into a specific job description – to prioritizing skills, job titles become less important. An employee with a broader skill set or more durable skills will be more valuable to an organization. Any move that helps an individual develop in-demand and transferrable skills seems like a good move.
According to data from a 2020 LinkedIn study, employees who make a lateral move within three years of joining a company have a 62% chance of staying with their current employer long-term, whereas employees who do not make internal career changes – whether through a promotion or a lateral move – only have a 45% chance of remaining.
A lateral move can drive employee engagement by empowering individuals to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities and challenges. This ensures their skill sets don’t grow stale as your business needs and in-demand skills evolve. It also helps employees learn about how different department or job functions across the company work, which can also help these employees overcome boredom or burnout they might have been facing in their previous position.
While not a promotion, most employees must go through an internal hiring process to be considered for a lateral move. Being hired into a new role can raise the status of the employee across the organization by showing they’ve already succeeded in their previous role and are trusted to take on new responsibilities. Through lateral moves, employees also have new opportunities to gain visibility and build relationships with colleagues to whom they might not have otherwise been exposed. This can help employees carve out new career paths that align with their long-term goals, rather than seeking career opportunities outside the company.
From an organizational standpoint, supporting lateral moves makes good business sense. Doing so can help drive business agility as employees move to higher-demand areas of the organization when your needs and priorities shift. It also helps drive employee engagement and retention, enabling your organization to maintain institutional knowledge and reduce hiring and onboarding costs.
cross-functional team projects and stretch projects
Rather than making the transition to an entirely new role through a promotion or lateral move, opportunities for internal visibility and career growth can also be made available through project-based work. Among the many lessons the pandemic has taught organizations and employees, alike, is the importance of being able to pivot quickly and assume new responsibilities outside a strict job description.
In a previous blog post we shared an example of a company that recently had only one week to publish a new 50-page safety guideline manual and distribute it to their field team. The corporate communications team tasked with the project pulled together a group comprising their project managers, along with writers and individuals with graphic design experience – none of whom were part of their team – to successfully complete the manual. Not only did this project show that the organization could rapidly adapt to changing business needs, it also empowered employees to work with others outside their current teams and gain new skills.
Additionally, project-based career development helps organizations meet employee demand for flexible work options. As employees have faced challenges striking a balance between work and personal responsibilities during the pandemic, many employers have considered or implemented flexible work options when possible.
One example of an organization that has embraced project-based work since the pandemic outbreak is Patagonia. Previously, the outdoor clothing company offered on-site childcare. When childcare centers temporarily closed, Patagonia surveyed employees about the type of support they needed. One outcome involved offering working parents the option for more asynchronous work – such as switching to long-term projects rather than day-to-day responsibilities with tight deadlines – if their personal responsibilities were more time sensitive.
While there might not always be opportunities for employees to take on new roles or project-based work, one way to continuously expand knowledge and skill sets is through internal networking. Encouraging employees to build relationships across roles, departments and business units is not only beneficial to their career growth, but it also enables your organization to more effectively share ideas, gain insights and solve problems in new ways.
Widespread adoption of remote and hybrid work environments presents unique challenges and opportunities for networking that might not be present in a traditional office environment. Natural networking that was commonplace in an office might not be an option for some employees, but virtual networking enables employees to connect to colleagues they might not have otherwise met. With employees working remotely and, as is the case with many organizations, dispersed across the globe, internal networking also ensures employees feel a sense of connection and belonging.
Internal networks can help support long-term engagement and retention. According to a study from Personnel Psychology, individuals with strong internal networks were more likely to be with their employer in two years, whereas those with stronger external networks were more likely to leave for opportunities with other companies. Fostering meaningful relationships through internal networking enables employees to find mentors within the organization, learn about roles and projects outside their direct teams and contribute to the company outside their traditional job description, among other benefits.
supporting career growth through human guidance and technology
When it comes to enabling growth and career development opportunities at your organization, it isn’t enough to expect employees to go it alone. According to our recent global skilling survey, only nine percent of HR leaders surveyed indicate that they have full confidence that their employees can make optimal choices to achieve skilling and career development goals on their own.
Facilitating an employee-first experience and achieving long-term workforce agility requires a blend of human guidance and impactful technology. Through human guidance, employees can receive expert support from a career coach with deep industry expertise and the latest knowledge about career development, skilling and networking best practices. Paired with the right technology, employees can access resources such as job market data, skilling courses, networking tools and interview guides. The combination of a human-centered and technology-enabled approach to career consultation enables employees to be set up for success whether they’re seeking an internal role change, building their skills through project-based work or looking to improve their networking skills.