Just One-Third of Workers Consider Internal Role Before Quitting

Effective internal mobility programs will improve retention

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer March 1, 2022
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​Retention has taken on new resonance during the Great Resignation as millions of workers quit their jobs each month. One clear way to slow down the talent exodus is to put more thought into internal mobility.   

Record-breaking numbers of employees have given their notice to jump ship since the spring of 2021. And according to a recently released Gartner survey report, only 33 percent of job seekers in the past 12 months searched for a job at their current workplace first.

"In today's increasingly competitive job market, employers face added pressure to retain employees," said Jamie Kohn, research director in the Gartner HR practice. "However, many employees are looking outside their current organizations for their next move rather than exploring internal opportunities."

Kohn said that the level of internal hiring has not changed over the last several years. "We had expected internal mobility to increase during the pandemic, as companies were looking to keep their talent and redeploy workers, but internal hiring levels didn't budge," she said.

A career change is especially difficult to pull off internally, she added. "Companies are better at direct internal moves, like promotions. But employees are more reluctant to talk to their managers about a career change and don't have the networks in other departments or for other types of roles."

The Gartner research signals that internal mobility needs to be more accessible and promoted by leadership, said Linda Ginac, the CEO of Austin, Texas-based TalentGuard, a talent management software company. "It could also be signaling a poor rollout of a program where employees are unaware that these options exist. In addition, there are common barriers for mobility such as managers demonstrating obstructive behavior like talent hoarding, where a manager will block someone from moving into a new role because they don't want to lose their top performer."

Ginac said that employees know when internal mobility is not really an option, and in the worst cases, "it's often easier to quit the company and re-enter as a new candidate than to move internally."

She added that "if you have an employee looking for a new opportunity, you might as well allow them to look within your organization, because if not, they will look outside your company and then that manager will have a bigger problem to solve."

Promote Jobs Internally

Gartner's survey found that only 51 percent of respondents were aware of internal job openings at their organization. Tailored communications and career-pathing technology will help create awareness, experts say.

Employers should be actively pushing jobs to employees, Kohn said. "Recruiters can push job notifications to people with certain skills, based on the skill sets needed for the open role."

Gina Fox, principal recruiter for internal mobility at workplace collaboration technology provider Atlassian, said her team uses Slack and Confluence blogs to promote internal job opportunities, in addition to maintaining an internal job board.

Technology can make this function easier. "Employees should be able to access a central system that understands the capabilities that they possess and other opportunities that might be a good match for a next move," Ginac said.

"The technology is critical," Kohn agreed. "It opens up a broader variety of jobs for people and shows them the skills needed to get them to the job they want. We're seeing more organizations implementing skills-based platforms, which help employees understand potential career paths, enable employees to share their preferences about new roles and match them based on their skills to different roles in the organization."

Allowing employees to raise their hand for roles that aren't open yet is another way to help HR determine the level of interest for a specific role and the quality of the internal pipeline, Kohn said. "When the role does open up, you've already got a pool of internal candidates," she said.

Fox said that Atlassian is currently exploring internal marketplace technology to better support the internal candidate journey and experience, and in the meantime, it is using a customized internal tracking board in addition to its applicant tracking system.

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Managers Should be Coaches, Too

Even when internal opportunities are sufficiently promoted, certain employees tend to be favored candidates because they have better networks, which creates feelings of inequity among other internal candidates.

"People with better networks or those formally identified as high-potential employees tend to get connected with more opportunities," Kohn said. "To improve this, managers can make sure performance management and goal-setting processes surface what people are really interested in. Managers should be talking to their employees about the next role that they would like to move into."

Ginac said that every employee should be included within a system where their skills, capabilities, preferences and experiences are outlined and can be used to find their next step. "This can inform management of who should be in a talent pool for a new opportunity," she said. "Decisions are based on objective information instead of manager bias and also promote diversity, equity and inclusion of candidates as well." 

Kohn said some large employers have begun providing employees with one-on-one career coaching to explore opportunities that align with their interests. "Either the recruiting function or some other part of HR connects with employees to uncover their interests, passions and motivations outside of their current job," she said.

She added that if an employer doesn't have the resources to implement a formal internal coaching structure, a skip-level manager method can be used, where employees are able to talk with someone other than their direct manager to talk about internal opportunities.

"One-on-one career coaching can be a powerful instrument to help an employee, but it is only as useful as the information that coach has access to," Ginac said. "At the end of the day, it is up to the employee to pursue their own path. Employers should supply employees with access to data about themselves and the workforce that they operate in to inform their career trajectory."

Circumvent Talent Hoarding

Talent hoarding is the No. 1 problem with internal mobility at most organizations, Kohn said.

According to Gartner, only 17 percent of candidates say their manager facilitates the process of applying for internal jobs, and only 20 percent feel supported by their team to make an internal move.

"A company could have adopted an internal mobility culture, but if managers sometimes are not on board with the plan, it's not effective," Ginac said. "Managers need to be educated on the benefits of internal mobility and how in the end it will benefit their team."

At Atlassian, employees are eligible for internal opportunities after one year of tenure and are considered at less than one year on a case-by-case basis, Fox explained. "We do expect employees to have a discussion with their current manager once we begin scheduling interviews for the new role that they've applied to," she said.

Kohn said that organizations should consider allowing employees to bypass their managers in applying for new roles. "People may like the company and the work but just don't connect with their manager," she said. "HR can shift manager notifications to after candidates apply or before interviewing. This protects employees from uncomfortable conversations before they know if they are a strong candidate for the role."

Promoting project-based work may diminish the threat managers may feel about losing talent, Kohn said. "Internal mobility is more than a full-time job change. Sometimes people want to try out a new job in a different part of the organization. Managers will see that talent may temporarily flow out of their team, but talent also flows into their team. Seeing the benefit of bringing ideas from a different part of the organization to the team can help managers shift the way they think about internal mobility."

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