The Pew Research Center reveals that 63% of employees left their jobs in 2021 due to no career advancement opportunities. As organizations continue to withstand the effects of The Great Resignation – such as low employee engagement and retention – it’s likely they’ve considered adopting an upskilling program or other formalized career development plan.

Before building these programs, it’s important for organizations to set healthy examples for what career advancement may look like. Taking initiative on leading projects and working later hours all without the need for recognition may sound great in theory, but doing that could lead to unhealthy work boundaries that can cause stress on the employee and lead to burnout.

Organizations can set a strong foundation for their upskilling initiatives by taking additional steps to ensure their workforce feels supported and cared for. Here are five tips that managers can use for leveraging professional development that supports an engaged and healthy workforce.

1. Support Employees’ Overall Health and Well-being

This one may sound simple, but if employees are not getting the support they need, they could turn elsewhere. Look to leadership and upper management to get a sense of the organization’s current working habits. Are they sending emails late at night, working on the weekends or failing to take vacation time? This could be sending the wrong message to the team that to move into these higher-level positions, you need to do the same.

Instead, practice healthy working habits and set clear boundaries. This could be setting designated times to work, planning out your vacation time and turning notifications off on the weekends and when you’re using paid time off (PTO). Encouraging your workforce to follow suit will help ensure a better work-life balance for everyone.

Another way to support employees’ health and well-being is by scheduling no-agenda check-ins or lunches with your employees and teammates. Our team allows at least five minutes of every meeting to check in on how the others’ days are going, what the children have been up to and any new hobbies they’ve taken on. Employees will feel more motivated and productive to excel in their jobs when they know their co-workers care about them, including their personal lives.

2. Conduct Formal (and Informal) Performance Reviews

Make time with your employees to learn more about their career aspirations and develop a plan to ensure they’re meeting their goals. During weekly meetings with your employees, monitor their progress and empower them to take small strides outside their comfort zone to ensure they’re on track.

There’s no reason you shouldn’t be frequently asking your employees if they’re happy, enjoying their work and how they feel about the business. The more frequently you make these kinds of questions a natural part of ongoing dialogue, the easier “performance conversations” become.

By incorporating both formal and informal performance reviews into your weekly conversations with your employees, your organization can uplift its workforce to feel more engaged and productive, leading to decreased turnover over time.

4. Empower Employees to Take Ownership of New Projects

A motto I’ve adopted into my leadership style and like to live by is, “Hire smart people and get out of their way.” The best way to provide professional development is to paint a vision for what “success” looks like and then provide the autonomy and motivation for your team to figure it out on their own.

Giving employees the freedom to do their best and learn from failures can be difficult, but it has to start with trust. Trusting your employees to get the job done should not be earned – the decision to trust new employees was made as soon as you decided to hire them.

One tip that managers can use for building trust with their employees is being receptive to new ideas and the potential for change in your organization. Employees who feel validated will more likely feel supported to lead certain projects, take natural strides toward developing new skills and grow professionally overall.

5. Recognize Outstanding Performance and Achievements

When employees start to think the hard work they’re putting in is going unnoticed, they can get bogged down, lose their sense of productivity and could even look for another job. It’s important to recognize employees’ outstanding performance, celebrate their achievements and show your appreciation for the work that they do.

Recognizing employees helps them build a sense of purpose and intent in their jobs, further encouraging them to keep it up and continue setting the bar. Whether it’s sending a message to the team in an email, taking a moment to admire their work in a meeting, or granting a paid day off, a little bit goes a long way – and it doesn’t always have to be formal. Many times, people just want their good work to be recognized.

Another tip that managers can encourage their employees to do is storing a “pick me up” folder on their desktop, or another easy-to-access place where they can save any written positive feedback they’ve received. We all have days when we’re feeling down, and a subtle reminder that our work is valued and benefits the business in some way or another is sometimes all we need.

5. Provide Training Opportunities Beyond Compliance

Your workforce may not know what skills they need to move into the next steps of their careers. Providing your organization with the opportunity to upskill and reskill allows them to improve on their existing skills, gain new ones and apply them in their field.

One way which you can invest in your employees’ professional development is providing paid hours each week to take classes to earn a new certification and/or attending webinars or conferences. If they find skills applicable to the organization, encourage them to share their learnings with the rest of the team.

Also, you can take some of the pressure off employees to find their own training opportunities by offering them a database with a wide range of content on soft skills to take at their leisure. Investing in employees’ professional development communicates to them that the company cares about their professional growth and future within the organization.

Professional development and career advancement are the most sought out opportunities in the workplace today, and they can also improve common business challenges organizations are facing, such as low employee engagement and retention. But, without a strong foundation that supports employee health and well-being, none of these upskilling initiatives will be able to withstand on its own. With proper management training, these five tips on leveraging professional development for an engaged and healthy workforce can all be done at the management level, making it easy for organizations to ensure employees are being cared for.

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