In the work, Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work, William Kahn notes that when employees are engaged they are focused and find meaning in their work, feel supported by their organization without fear of negative consequences, and have the resources and capacities to perform the job (p. 692-724). It is evident that organizations with higher engagement report higher productivity, higher profitability, lower attrition, and fewer accidents/incidents.
However, one pressing challenge is that engagement varies over time depending on a variety of factors. A great way to keep employees engaged is by formalizing and supporting career development internally in an organization.
How does career development support employee engagement?
Organizations with formalized career development programs:
- Determine the roles and career levels they need to run the organization successfully (i.e., provide meaning).
- Define career paths and how individuals should progress in those roles (i.e., feel supported).
- Identify the support needed to ensure employees are equipped to perform their duties according to their role (i.e., have skills and resources to perform job).
How can you get started without investing significant resources?
It is not uncommon to see organizations invest in various career development products (e.g., Learning Management Systems, Online Training Services, Competency Models), yet fall somewhat short of taking the extra step to think through how the products complement each other, and subsequently, how the products can help employee career development and/or support supervisors in guiding employees. Employees may learn about these tools and services as they are released, but they may not understand how each system, or program combined, helps them in reaching their individual career goals. This lack of understanding may cause an employee to feel reluctant to participate in learning about the offerings out of fear that they could potentially be wasting their time in doing so, should they pick the least relevant tool applicable to their role. Organizations should always encourage employees to take advantage of the tools and programs made available.
Here are some tips to structure and formalize career development tools and programs:
- Develop a communication strategy. A communication strategy is a great way to define both your target audience and the main benefits for your audience. It also allows the company to make connections between other products or programs employees might not know about.
- Train employees and supervisors to maximize the benefits of new tools or programs. Successful organizations provide guidance to employees indicating what tools they should be using and when they should be using them. This seems to come as second nature to an organization when they are introducing a job-related tool, but not so much when it comes to introducing other kinds. Career Development tools are unfortunately usually overlooked. Without implemented guidance, there is a heavy reliance on supervisors to mentor and guide employees. The challenge with this approach is that supervisors may send different messages due to the lack of a standard script for them to work from. It also requires extra effort on the supervisors’ end because they have to take the additional time and effort to figure out what tools are available and which ones would be most appropriate for each employee.
- Track metrics and gather feedback. Do not simply sit back and relax once a new product or program is released. Rarely is everything always perfect out of the box. Instead, by acting and measuring usage and impact, organizations can prioritize improvements. While collecting this feedback, make sure to be transparent in why you are collecting it and how you will you use it. When you make improvements, tie it back to this feedback, so employees can see that their voice matters.
When employees and leaders have a shared understanding of what is needed in the job, both now and in the future, employees will be more engaged. They will feel empowered and have a sense that they can be proactive in their own development. Without this structure in place, employees may still be proactive, but they may not be focused, and therefore, their work may not align with organizational goals.
If you haven’t already done so, check out FMP’s article from last week here, which highlights the focus of each stakeholder in the career development process.
Kahn W. 1990. Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal, 33: 692-724.