It may sound a bit corny, but every person in your organisation really is unique. They all have different personalities; a different blend of values, skills, talents, expertise and aspirations. Each of them brings something different to the party and so needs to be motivated differently. If you can unlock the secret of what drives them all individually and then act on it, then you’ve cracked it – you have a highly engaged workforce. There is now also an abundance of evidence, comprehensively compiled in the landmark “Nailing the Evidence” report from the Employee Engagement Task Force, which confirms that higher levels of engagement bring with them greater productivity, customer satisfaction and financial performance.
The evidence therefore suggests a positive link between employee engagement and all things good on the bottom line, but the big question now is how to bring it about. Fortunately, there is an effective common approach at hand: our research shows that the first step to achieving higher levels of engagement among busy professionals is to realise that they are ravenously hungry for career coaching and development.
Nearly three-quarters (71%) of UK management professionals have already decided that their career is the priority when facing work-life balance challenges. This is where big gains can be made by switched-on employers. Less than 20% are currently “very satisfied” with their career development opportunities, but those who are will then be much more likely to remain with their current employer. Other research suggests that employees in a genuine partnership with employers around career development will register higher levels of engagement and stick around for longer – recent evidence in the Harvard Business Review, for example, suggests that it is meaningful development opportunities that will revitalise sagging enthusiasm for an employer.
The consequences of doing nothing about career development are clear. On average, one in six employees intends to leave his or her job in the next 12 months – with half of the workforce expecting to move on within the next three years. Employees who have someone actively encouraging their development, however, are twice as likely to feel engaged – and much more likely to stay put when that tempting job offer comes along.
How employees feel about their current employer at that “crossroads” moment is crucial. Money is often cited as the number one reason why people leave, yet the truth is much more complicated. Moving jobs is a time-consuming business and involves effort and change- something many humans won’t readily embrace unless they are truly disengaged; fully engaged employees are unlikely to be tempted by anything short of a step change in their salary.
So good career development is massively important to keeping employees onside – and it need not be merely a happy coincidence of interests. It means, however, both manager and employee accepting responsibility for the latter’s progress. The big challenge, however, is that many managers themselves feel disconnected from the notion of career development. Too often, they see training and development in their team either as an inconvenient short-term loss of resource or an extra burden on an already tight budget. In addition, they feel under pressure from above to keep their team’s collective heads down to keep producing more with less.
There has to be a better way – and there is. A more positive view is to see career development as essential to the growth of key skills for the business, with harassed line manager enabling the employee to take responsibility for their own career development. Employees wanting development have an obligation to themselves to understand their own values, motivators and talents better in order to put together a coherent career plan. Those that do plan, the evidence shows, are much more likely to achieve their goals, with their line managers then more likely to listen, understand their coherent aspirations and provide jobs that challenge and stretch them.
This isn’t easy in the modern workplace, but it is possible. With so many organisations pared down to the bone, attention is shifting towards new online tools that afford staff the time to reflect and engage with career development. Technology holds the key to a new career bargain between employee and employer – one that could stick.
The potential is great for employers and employees who accept this career development challenge. If you can channel career aspirations to the benefit of your business you cannot help but increase the chances of employee loyalty, engagement and productivity. Every person in your organisation may be unique, but great career development can be a bargain where everyone wins.
Linda Jackson is a founding director of 10Eighty, a pioneering consultancy focused on ROI and demonstrable improvements in organisational and people performance. CareerCENTRE™ is an online set of career management tools that help employees, line managers and organisations to understand career values, motivators and skills development needs.