Develop Your Employees So They Can Leave…Which Is Why They Will Stay

CFO: What if we invest and develop our employees and they leave?

CEO: What if we don’t and they stay?

You’ve heard it before but it’s more relevant today than ever. If you ask any CEO what is the one thing they need to achieve their business objectives, it inevitably comes down to having the right people. Today’s “war for talent” combined with the ease and efficiency for employees to look for new jobs (e.g. “one-click” applications) indicates employees are holding all the cards.

In August, CNBC reported there were more jobs (10M) in the U.S. than people looking for work (8.6M). With a scarcity of available talent, retaining the talent you already have is vital and less expensive than hiring new people into your organization.

Why Employees Quit

With the pandemic triggering The Great Resignation, mental fatigue, employee disengagement, and work and family issues are moving up the ranks in terms of reasons why employees are quitting their jobs (or at least admitting to “actively looking” for another job) at a record pace. Another leading reason employees are quitting continues to be because they feel disconnected with their company as they are unclear about their company’s long-term intention for them personally. And even if the employee is paid well, including bonuses and perhaps equity, “compensation” is only one lever in making employees feel valued. In fact, “compensation” is rarely the primary reason employees stay with an employer. In virtually all employee job satisfaction surveys found online, “compensation” rarely makes the top three reasons why employees leave their employers. In the post-pandemic era, a recent survey conducted by Breeze reports that employees are willing to accept a reduction in pay and benefits in order to continue working remotely. This further supports the need for companies to reconsider traditional tactics and do more to retain their top talent.

Employee Engagement

In today’s work environment where a large population of the workforce is working remotely, it is critical for managers to reach out frequently to their people and monitor engagement. These conversations need to go beyond formal team meetings and weekly one-on-one business updates. Today, managers need to demonstrate personal interest in their employees’ personal well-being and connect with them on a more human level. During these conversations, managers should regularly reinforce the employee’s value and the importance of the work they are doing. Moreover, it is the manager’s responsibility to proactively initiate conversations about the employee’s career objectives. This demonstrates that the manager and the company are looking ahead and have deliberate plans for the individual. If the company waits for the employee to initiate the conversation then many times it’s already too late. These conversations need to be done regularly and fluidly throughout the year, not only at the ceremonial “annual performance review.” By having more frequent conversations with their people, managers will stay more connected with the employee, align the employee’s goals with the business’ goals, and detect and address simmering employee disengagement, pre-empting employee attrition.

Most importantly, once the employee has shared their career goals the manager needs to take action to help further these goals by co-developing a personalized “career roadmap” to help the employee achieve their career objectives. This career plan can include targeted training courses, professional coaching, and developmental assignments to help the employee get closer to their stated career objectives.

Some companies invest a lot of money in making large online training libraries available to their employees, however, this is not enough. Generic online content is often viewed as punitive because it’s often associated with mandatory training or compliance, which is why internal training libraries are rarely used. After a full day of Zoom meetings, the last thing an employee wants to do is take a two-hour online course even if it’s in the best interest of the employee’s development.

What employees want is true career development personalized to support their own career growth curve. Here are three things a company can do to help employees advance their careers:

  1. Offer professional coaching
  2. Provide job enrichment projects
  3. Encourage external networking

Professional Coaching

Investing in a professional coach sends a clear message to the employee that they are important to the organization. An independent third-party coach provides a sounding board for the employee. The coach will listen to the employee with neither judgement nor consequence. The coach will help the employee focus on their strengths while making the employee accountable for opportunities for improvement. The coach can stretch the employee to try new mindsets and behaviors outside of the employee’s comfort zone, often triggering a breakthrough in their professional and personal life.

Job Enrichment

After an employee identifies career goals or skills they’d like to develop, the manager needs to provide the employee with opportunities to foster those ambitions. The best way for the employee to develop skills is to apply them to real day-to-day projects. The projects can be within the same department and/or involve cross-functional teams giving the employee more exposure and access to the organization at large. Ideally, the manager will allow the employee to allocate a portion of their time to work on these projects rather than having the employee work additional hours to participate in these enrichment projects.

External Networking

Employers should encourage and support employees to network outside their organizations. This can be in the form of professional associations, alma mater alumni events, and even community or volunteer activities. Encouraging external networking demonstrates the commitment to the employee to grow professionally and support their personal interests. An additional benefit is that happy employees positively represent the company brand in the marketplace and potentially recruit some great talent into the organization.

No Guarantees

Even organizations that implement all of these measures, that go above and beyond to make their employees happy, will experience attrition. Good people always have options and it’s impossible to prevent other companies from leveraging incredible opportunities to poach talent -especially talent with highly valued skills and expertise. However, companies that invest in their people with professional development will foster a culture of learning and build a network of employees and alumni who are positive brand ambassadors for an organization known as a great place to work. And who knows, some of that great talent just might boomerang back in the future.

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