Six Steps To Improve Career Flexibility

Susan Tohyama is Chief Human Resources Officer of Ceridianresponsible for designing and driving the global people and culture strategy.

Today’s employees crave flexibility. The pandemic proved that good work could be done when, where and how they chose to do it. As our working world becomes increasingly borderless and fluid, employees are seeking greater control over their entire work lives—they don’t just want job flexibility, they also want career flexibility.

A recent survey from my company, Ceridian, of 8,833 global workers found gaps in career pathing: Nine in 10 workers said that they had “felt stuck in their role over the past year, with one-third (33%) feeling that way often or always.” That’s not a great recipe for employee engagement, retention or productivity. However, we also found that 84% of employees “who have a clear career path say it makes them more committed to their employers.”

This all points to career path as a winning way to better engage and retain talent. Career paths are also no longer linear. MIT Sloan Management Review research shows that the opportunity to make a lateral career move was the most important predictor of employee retention—2.5 times more important than pay and 12 times more effective than offering a promotion.

Here are six steps to improve career planning and to help employees grow in place:

1. Understand employee aspirations.

You cannot meet employee needs until you know what they are. Our research found that “less than half (45%) of respondents said their employers understood their career aspirations,” but only 19% strongly agreed that their employers had a good understanding of their skills.

To become an employer of choice, uncover what employees want from their careers. The need to be attuned to employee ambitions is more critical than ever. In a recent Gartner survey, 65% of respondents said the pandemic “made them rethink the place that work should have in their life.”

2. Double down on career development.

To reach their career goals, workers want employers to provide career development plans and give them more control over those plans. Employers can do this by providing personalized, actionable plans for their employees to sharpen their current skills and acquire skills of interest. This, in turn, can help employees understand how their skills can be utilized in other roles and teams.

Lastly, promote a culture of continuous learning and development that makes learning a daily part of the employee experience.

3. Embrace internal mobility.

Mentorship opportunities and internal mobility follow career development plans on the list of ways employers can help employees achieve their career goals.

Give workers the opportunity to contribute skills to new projects, for instance, or be shifted into new roles in different departments. Help employees identify open roles internally that are relevant to their skills and interests. At the same time, organizations can use data-driven insights to help place the right people with the right skills in the right place.

4. Support middle managers.

Middle managers are on the front lines with employees and play a key role in career pathing. Without training, middle managers can inadvertently hinder internal mobility, impacting employee engagement and retention.

To actively support middle managers, employers should offer comprehensive, targeted and ongoing leadership training and executive guidance for all middle managers. Give them the resources they need to deal with their own mental health and burnout. Provide people managers with technology and workforce insights to help them be more efficient and empower their teams to be more self-sufficient.

5. Deliver effective and equitable training, and make it personal.

In research from Monster, 91% of employers said they struggled to fill positions because of a skills gap. Effective employee skills development should be catered to an employee’s needs—staying current or leveling up—rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to be effective. Instead, training should be catered to individuals, whether helping them stay current in skills for existing or new roles.

6. Encourage diversity.

Get insight into the extent employees feel they have advancement opportunities, so you can determine where diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging work needs to be done. Ensure that underrepresented groups have access to stretch assignments, mentorship opportunities and executive sponsorship to open paths for them into leadership roles. Be intentional in succession planning to maintain future diversity in leadership.

Flexibility In All Areas

Employers can improve employee commitment by increasing their own commitment to the work life of employees and by being flexible in meeting their needs. Along the way, companies will build organizational resilience by attracting and retaining talent and helping employees build skills and engagement.


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