I remember seeing a copy of the company newsletter that announced my grandfather’s retirement after 40 years. A few decades later it was my stepfather who retired from the U.S. Postal Service after 39 years. My longest tenure with any organization has been nine years (my current role), which is an eternity based on today’s standards. The concept of the career has changed, with technological transformations and socioeconomic shifts promising more pronounced and frequent adaptations in the future. The key to happy and productive people in this new world of work? Personalization.
If you need any convincing about why it is important to focus on people, you haven’t been paying attention. The pandemic gave way to The Great Resignation, and today we find ourselves with millions more jobs than available people. And the cavalry isn’t coming. Today’s labor shortage will likely continue, as the Baby Boomers transition into retirement and Gen Z puts their unique stamp on the workplace. But the need and opportunity to personalize people’s experience at work is not a generational issue; it is a human one. While some collectivist cultures downplay ideas of individualism, the reality is that every single person on this planet is unique. Here are three ways that organizations can create custom careers and avoid one-size-fits-all environments.
1. Personalize Positions (stop hiring people for jobs)
Each of us possesses different temperaments, natural tendencies and talents. What if we stopped hiring people for positions, and started hiring them for their skills? The concept of “job crafting” is the idea of allowing individuals to customize their responsibilities to reflect their superpowers, passions and preferences. Instead of forcing someone into a role that includes tasks they are not naturally suited for, why not give them the freedom and flexibility to do what they love? Of course, it needs to align with the needs of the organization, but that is possible with some effort. If this sounds too far-fetched, maybe give individuals the ability to take part in temporary project work that gives them the chance to develop new skills and experience novel areas of the business.
2. Personalize Career Paths (invest in internal mobility)
All of us have a next step in our professional careers … even if that step is sometimes sideways or backward in favor of other life priorities. So why is it that employees frequently lament the fact that it is easier to discover and land a job outside of their organization than in it? The ability to find hidden talent, match people to the work they love, and then utilize sophisticated cross-boarding capabilities to make them productive as fast as possible will be critical as the world adapts to having fewer workers available. The alternative is to watch them walk away with all of the time, energy and resources you invested in them. The next generation of workers will not only change jobs regularly, but they are also likely to change careers several times. By giving them visibility to opportunities at every stage in their career journey, companies can go beyond conventional programs to ensure each individual has a career plan as unique as they are.
3. Personalize Perks (give them what they actually want)
In industries like health care, where nurse shortages and costly travel agencies have combined to create the perfect storm of people problems, throwing more money (in the form of direct compensation) may not be an option. Leading health systems are exploring alternative ideas to attract and retain clinical staff, including personalized packages that reflect the preferences of the person. Some of the newer nurses may gladly forgo expensive benefit plans in favor of higher base pay, while more tenured caregivers would much prefer a flexible (reduced) schedule or a lump-sum contribution to their retirement account. Any way an organization can offer help both inside and outside the walls of work should be explored, including things like meal preparation, child care and elder care.
However you choose to personalize opportunities for your people and prepare for the new world of work, the one constant that you will experience is change. Retention strategies should not be focused on keeping people where they are or doing what they are doing today. They should encourage people to grow, evolve and expand their horizons in a way that benefits both them and the organization.
For my grandfather, the potential to earn that gold watch at the end of his career was enough to keep him committed. It may sound counterintuitive, but the more you focus on developing and growing your people so they can prosper (and potentially leave), the better opportunity you have to get them to stay.