Career Conversations

Boosting Employee Engagement Through Career Conversations

By Pamela DeLoatch

Want to increase employee engagement? It’s time to look at the career conversations you’re having with your employees. Traditionally, career discussions have been tagged onto the annual performance review process, meaning they occur far too infrequently and with an already painful process.

As more companies realize continuous growth and development conversations are a priority for employees, they are shifting the way they handle reviews altogether. But are annual career conversations moving to a more frequent cadence too? They should be.

Given the speed of business today, a yearly career discussion can become outdated quickly. Based on organizational needs, employee performance, personal development, and outside issues, your employee’s interests can and will change over time. Waiting a year to discuss their personalized career path is a surefire way for them to become disengaged, or worse—jump ship.

The link between engagement and the career talk

A study by Quantum Workplace found when employees and managers frequently talk about the employee career path, opportunities to advance, and ways to learn and grow their careers, engagement increases significantly.

Eighty-two percent of employees who have conversations more than once a month are highly engaged, compared to the 53 percent who only talk about their careers once a year or less.  That’s an entire 29 point difference in engagement favorability due to frequency of career conversations.

In a tight job market where employees can move from one company to the next, employers must find ways to attract and retain employees as long as possible—and providing a top-notch employee experience is the key. But maintaining motivated and engaged employees can be challenging for those in leadership failing to stay agile.

In The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019, 49 percent of respondents said they’d like to quit their jobs within two years, up from 38 percent in last year’s report. This isn’t an idle threat: about 25 percent of those who said they’d like to leave a company in two years have already left an employer within the last 24 months.

Not feeling appreciated, lack of learning and development opportunities, and not enough opportunities to advance are among the top reasons millennials (the largest adult generation in the workplace) plan to leave.

Career discussions—and the subsequent actions—can address these issues by recognizing employees and their contributions, supporting their desired areas of growth, and introducing them to ongoing opportunities.  

What to talk about in a career discussion

Career discussions used to involve the sharing of a departmental hierarchy with a starting point showing “you are here.” But organizations have flattened, cross-departmental opportunities have grown, and jobs that didn’t exist ten years ago (think social media director or content marketer) are popping up each year. It’s more useful to talk about what personal strengths and skills your employees can bring to the table rather than constraining them to a career ladder.

As you plan your next career conversations, here are six tips to consider:

1. Don’t wait for your employees to bring up the career discussion. Be transparent and let them know you care about their future and want to hear their thoughts, because rest assured they are thinking about it. By making it a matter-of-fact ongoing conversation, a career discussion, like regular performance 1-on-1s, provides the opportunity for progression.

2. Help your employees form a long-term and short-term vision. This step is a big one. Maybe the question isn’t what do they want to be, but what do they want to be doing everyday? Encourage them to seek out what makes them unique through their personal strengths and align their work to fit those traits. If you can offer them support and steps that help them move toward their dream role, they still may not stay in the organization for the entire stretch of their career, but they may stay longer than two years.

3. Encourage your employees to find meaning in the work they currently do. How does the work connect with the organization’s goals? Be sure to share the organization’s values and objectives and key results (OKRs) with your employee, and encourage a two-way discussion about what those goals mean at the individual level. Have your employees look at their own goals and help them connect the dots between their responsibilities and the overall company mission. 

4. Be open to employees taking different career paths. For older generations, the expectation was that an upward trajectory that involved managing others was the sign of success. But that’s not true—and not just for millennials. Be sure to help your employees create these personalized career paths tailored to their passions and strengths.

5. Encourage continuous learning. Even an employee who has just been promoted can take part in a career discussion. They may not be ready to look at the next step, but they can focus on getting better in the current position. What kind of learning or development opportunities do they need to excel? Keep in mind non-traditional learning options such as participating in community activities, mentoring, being mentored, or taking part in cross-functional opportunities.

Side note: establishing a culture of learning, not just for the individual employee, but for the organization, is a powerful way of attracting employees. A Robert Half and Enactus study found 91 percent of Gen Z employees said professional training was an essential factor in selecting an employer.  

6. Take a holistic approach. Your employee isn’t just the person you see in the office. They (hopefully) have a life and interests outside of work. Modern employees are blurring the lines between work and play, and seeking work-life synergy over work-life balance. How does this influence what they want to do in their career, and are there ways to bring their interests into the work environment? 

Leveraging employee strengths

Making use of your employee’s personal strengths through their role and highlighting the company’s purpose builds excitement and engagement. Leaders who hone in on their employee’s unique abilities and continually examine their roles to flex those attributes often create unstoppable teams. 

Although it may take place separately from a performance discussion, a career conversation is an integral way to help your employees thrive in their jobs. 15Five’s Best-Self Review brings all aspects of employee performance to one place, guiding and empowering both you and your employees in these essential reviews and discussions. 

In your next 1-on-1, take the initiative to strike up a career conversation and hold yourself accountable to ensure it’s regularly discussed. The last thing you want is to lose rockstar talent because you assumed their work was already aligned with their strengths. A team of passionate employees can take your company to the next level, but only if you let them.

Pamela DeLoatch is a B2B technology writer specializing in creating marketing content for the HR industry. With a background as an HR generalist and specialist, she writes about the employee experience, engagement, diversity, HR leadership, culture and technology. Follow Pamela on Twitter @pameladel.

Photo by Trung Thanh on Unsplash


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