Career development gets failing grade from many workers

By Kathy Gurchiek Feb 5, 2007
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There’s a disconnect between the career-development programs employers offer to employees and the kind of career development employees want, according to a global survey of nearly 1,000 executives and managers.

“Employees are clearly not benefiting from management efforts to support their careers,” said Christopher Rice, CEO of BlessingWhite, a global consulting company in New Jersey that conducted the online survey in December 2006.

Forty-one percent of the 976 respondents said their employer’s approach to career development failed to meet their personal needs, while 29 percent thought their employer’s programs for career development met their needs. Nearly a third, or 30 percent, had no opinion on the question.

“There’s been a major investment going on for 10 years now in such programs, but nonetheless there’s a disconnect,” Rice said in a press release. “Employees remain skeptical, indifferent or confused about their employer’s efforts to support their personal career development. Whether it’s published career paths, assessments, online resources or mentoring, employees aren’t getting what they want.”

Among those surveyed, 57 percent have leadership responsibilities and 30 percent work in organizations employing more than 10,000 people. Thirty-three countries were represented in the study, with 75 percent of the respondents based in the United States.

The survey found that:

    • 40 percent agree their employer is committed to helping them achieve personal career goals, vs. 30 percent who did not agree with this.

    • 40 percent agree their employer makes it easy to pursue lateral career moves, not just promotions, vs. 30 percent who disagreed.

    • 38 percent believe that their employer provides career development solely to “high potential” employees or specific groups of employees.

    • Employees are evenly divided (36 percent vs. 36 percent) on whether talk of career development in their organization is largely for internal public relations, with few employees really benefiting.

    • 44 percent of employees do not believe that their career aspirations are supported with a talent management system or initiative; 26 percent believe they are supported.

    • Workers who are 29 years old or younger are the most satisfied with their employer’s approach to career development, with 50 percent agreeing that it met their personal needs.

    • Less than one-third of Generation X and baby boomer respondents were satisfied with their employer’s career-development efforts.

The disparate reaction among generations is not surprising, said Mary Ann Masarech, director of marketing and research for BlessingWhite. Generation Y’s expectations for career development aren’t as high as older workers, she observed.

“Gen Y doesn’t really know what they’re looking for; whatever they get is good enough,” she told HR News. “As you get older you get more discerning so you know what you’re looking for.”

Added Rice, “Expectation goes up as people get older and a little more sophisticated about what they should be getting from their companies.”

The employer needs to be aware of what employees view as helpful or less helpful career development strategies, Rice noted.

“The things that are helpful require a little more commitment from organizations,” such as one-on-one coaching and career training sessions, “so they are probably reticent to do them, yet they’re probably very good investments.”

What employers can do

“While it appears many employers surely intend to support their employees’ career development, they’re just not scratching the itch,” Rice said. “Whether it’s because of poor communication or resources that don’t suit employees’ real needs and motivators, few employers and employees benefit.”

However, there are things employers should consider so their career development programs meet employees’ needs.

    • Find what employees value by talking to them about their career ambitions during performance management reviews or by studying exit interviews.

    • Consider your demographics.

Baby boomers nearing retirement age may see not value in career development, or don’t trust that it will lead anywhere, said Phyllis G. Hartman, SPHR, president of PGHR Consulting and a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Employee Relations Panel

It also may require an investment of time or money that is beyond the employee. A single mother with five children, Hartman said, may not be able to afford the cost of daycare or a babysitter to attend classes that might some day lead to a higher-paying position.

    • Be honest with employees about the program’s goals and be clear why it’s being offered.

A lot of unhappiness over employer career development programs is a communication issue, she said. Sometimes the employer unintentionally implies that career development is a promise of promotion and in-house advancement. The employees may feel cheated if that doesn’t happen, especially if they make career decisions based on that belief, she pointed out.

“Most of the time companies [want] to provide something to retain and develop their employees,” she said, but all bets are off if the economy sours or some calamity befalls the business or its industry

Instead, tell employees “we’ll help you learn how to develop yourself and give you opportunities and information and some chances to do some things, but this is a benefit to you, which by the way will benefit the company,” she advised.

    • Provide a variety of multifaceted, robust ways employees can develop their careers.

That can include certification, conferences, involvement in a professional organization, classes, certain reading material, and programs with temporary assignments to gain new experiences and skills.

    • Position career development in context of business priorities.

“Explain to all managers of the organization why you do career development,” BlessingWhite’s Rice advises employers. “There’s a business reason to do this: We want you to stay with us, we want you to be ready for those opportunities.”

    • Present career development in the context of a conversation, and help employees clarify what they want.

“These are fairly complex decisions that require a mentor and manager guiding employees to the right places,” he told HR News.

Skills needed to advance within the company might be gained without requiring the employee to move across the country, for example. If not, guidance can be just as valuable in helping the employee clarify what he or she wants.

“Employees find values in ideas and advice vs. massive amounts of data,” Rice said.

The third annual study was to be released to the public Feb. 6.

Related resources:

China, Hong Kong Firms Lack Career Development for Critical Jobs, SHRM Online Global Focus Area, December 2006

Career Development Program Toolkit, SHRM Knowledge Center

Individual Career Development Plan, SHRM Knowledge Center

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