The Great Resignation is a symptom of a fundamental change in how people view their job, employer and even location. Deeply discontent, employees are voting with their feet.
For employees who are currently contemplating a job change, there’s no shortage of career advice. Much of it is overly simplistic, some downright dubious. And armed with poor council, employees will leave. It won’t a better situation. Some will make a poor decision because they didn’t have a strategic view of their career. Lacking competent career management, decisions can be reactive, spontaneous and random, instead of thoughtful, intentional and strategic. And human resources (HR) may be to blame.
Companies are fond of saying that employees own their career. In the current environment, a smarter strategy is to provide your employees with fit-for-purpose tools, guidance and skills so they can make good career decisions. If companies are great places to work where employees are trained to make good, informed career decisions, there shouldn’t be a problem.
This logic makes sense: 98% of respondents in our recent LinkedIn poll agreed that organizations should teach their employees career management skills. For two compelling reasons: alignment and accountability.
Teaching career competence ensures that everyone — leaders, managers and team members — is on the same page. Don’t leave it to individual managers to do a good, or poor, job of guiding employees in their career choices. What’s more, an aligned point of view reduces the inequities that come from idiosyncratic managerial decisions — for example, if it is OK for team members to network with other leaders, apply for open positions or receive 360-degree feedback.
Alignment on how career management works also fosters accountability. For employees, it becomes clear that opportunities stem from high performance, intentional development and proactive behaviors. Managers are accountable for supporting team members, within the framework provided, and poor behavior — like hoarding talent or withholding development — will have negative consequences. Finally, the accountability extends to the organization, confirming the critical nature of the processes that impact careers, like performance management, succession planning or internal job movement.
So, if teaching the skills of career competence makes sense, why aren’t organizations training for it at scale?
The reason is fear. Fear that they will lose employees, fear of discussing an ambiguous topic — with no single right answer — and finally, fear that if they teach careers, they may fail to deliver on the promise. So instead, organizations do nothing and make career management the employees’ problem. Then it’s no surprise when they leave for a spurious title, lesser organization or dead-end job.
In the era of The Great Resignation, HR and learning professionals must amplify their voice. Organizations must build career competence to improve the quality of their employees’ career choices. That includes rejecting simple, one-sided, feel-good guidance, like “follow your passion” or “ignore your weaknesses,” in favor of a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to have a sustainable, fulfilling career.
We train employees to understand that career success starts with them: knowing what they like and are good at, being thoughtful about the trade-offs they’re prepared to make and defining success on their terms. We also honestly address the external factors that impact careers — the opportunities available and the people we know. We encourage employees to treat their career as a “long game,” with success forged by what we do today, but shaped by an intentional plan for the future. Career management competencies — learned behaviors — should be taught in support of good decision making.
We want employees with ambition, confidence and drive to maximize their opportunities. Losing employees is inevitable, and they should never be begrudged for a great opportunity that their organization can’t offer. But they also shouldn’t be lost to the mistaken belief that their organization doesn’t care about their career or to a lapse in judgment.
The career curriculum can be straightforward. As a rapid assessment to identify the priorities, there are five questions that can gauge an employee’s career competence:
- Can you describe the determinants of what you consider a successful career?
- Do you have a career plan with specific actions to enable growth within your role and within the organization?
- Do you have a method to evaluate career opportunities?
- Do you know which career behaviors maximize your success?
- Do you have a disciplined way to measure progress against your career goals?
It’s yes or no. Maybe counts as a no. If there are fewer than four yes answers, chances are high that career mistakes will be made. And those mistakes won’t be in the organization’s favor.
Act quickly. Employees are on the move. So, employers should be, too.