Owen Morgan, Commercial and Operations Director at Penna, on how to help aimless employees find the drive and direction to push their careers forward
Zombies aren’t commonly associated with UK workplaces, but it seems there is a new breed, employees shuffling aimlessly along with no real direction, no motivation and no understanding as to how they might change. Add in the groaning and moaning and it’s not a pretty picture. Remind you of anyone?
Whilst it might stretch the imagination to link zombies to our improving, but still challenging, economic environment, there is one area where the two collide – career development. Being a ‘career zombie’ is clearly somewhat limiting. As leaders within business we want people to be the direct opposite, to drive forward, be adaptable and flexible and to understand how the world of work is changing and what they need to do to change with it.
We’ve seen a flurry of reports recently that seem to point to two factors currently affecting career development in the workplace.
- A genuine reluctance to change role given a ‘fear of the unknown’. Employees justify this inactivity by seeming to accept ‘their lot in life’ and have little or no motivation to change. They may not enjoy their current role, they may be serial under-performers, doing just enough to get by. They’re clearly not as engaged as you might wish them to be and are not helping their careers or your organisation achieve its objectives. They are truly lost souls.
- A real lack of understanding around how the working environment has changed in recent years. The workplace is clearly a very different environment now and is changing at an increasingly rapid rate year by year. Knowledge, for example, can now be sourced via Tumblr and Twitter, whilst career success is dictated by context, experience, an ability to innovate and perceptive thinking. Those organisations and employees that understand what this means for them and their careers will thrive, while those unable to navigate through the tsunami of change will increasingly struggle.
Clearly, taken together these factors can result in people either delaying, or making ill-informed choices with regard to the potential development of their careers.
So, despite the tentative improvements in the job market, many talented people are not yet sufficiently confident in respect of developing their own career paths. Add in the fact that organisational learning and development budgets have been constrained over recent years and it’s unsurprising that many people now struggle with the overall concept of ‘career’. With less understanding around career development generally, at a time when working lives are subject to change like never before, the outcome can often be less than positive.
Despite this, research shows that a significant number of people are still keen to move on, with some one in four of us currently seeking a new job according to CIPD research (remember all those New Year Resolutions made 11 months ago)? Combine the two and we’re faced with a situation where too many employees are stuck in jobs that offer them little job satisfaction, limited development opportunity and do nothing at all for their motivation.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Switching jobs is always a risky business, whether that’s via internal promotion or externally with a new employer. Leaving behind the old routine and embarking on a new adventure requires an individual to have the conviction they are making the right move, the motivation to develop new working relationships, learn new systems, processes and skills and have the resilience to deal with the challenges they will inevitably face.
So we’re facing an increasingly sclerotic workforce where vacancies, for both internal and external staff remain unfilled, as individuals remain tied into their roles, unwilling or unable to see the opportunity presented to them. Equally, a disenfranchised workforce will clearly be less productive than a more engaged one.
Organisations can address these issues simply and efficiently through the provision of targeted career development activities. Helping employees understand clearly and objectively their career options both internally and externally leads to greater internal mobility and, just as importantly, opportunities for those disengaged with their current roles to leave the current employer. Creating an environment where “careers” are fostered will support your recruitment activities and establish your organisation as one that talented people will actively seek out, join and stay with. Remember if you’re not talking to your employees about their careers sooner or later someone else will be.
Given that career development is an area of broader talent management policy that is often under-utilised it is clear that it’s a missed opportunity. Those organisations who do actively support career development often report that, in many cases, it becomes the cornerstone to broader employee development, retention and engagement and acts as buttress against the ‘zombification’ of people’s careers.
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