According to a recent survey from Saba and WorkplaceTrends.com, one third of U.S. workers are looking to change jobs in the next six months. A large chunk of these employees — 41 percent — said they’re itching to make a move because they want career development opportunities that their current employers just aren’t offering.
“People are looking to grow, expand, and use their skill sets, and the economy is pretty much booming right now,” says Adrienne Whitten, vice president of product marketing at Saba. “If people aren’t getting what they want, they know it’s relatively easy to get it elsewhere.”
These results don’t represent a glitch in the economic numbers, according to Whitten. Saba conducted a similar survey earlier this year, and the results were pretty much the same. What we’re seeing is a consistent desire among workers to find new jobs.
The plot thickens when we see that a large majority of companies are offering development opportunities to employees. The problem isn’t that companies are failing to give employees what they want; the real problem is that HR is failing to communicate with employees about the career developments options available to them. Saba found that 60 percent of HR leaders say they provide clear career paths to employees, but only 36 percent of employees said the same.
“There’s definitely a gap between what HR is doing and what employees are hearing and believing,” Whitten says.
HR Needs to Get Proactive — and Make Career Development More Accessible
To explain the communication breakdown, Whitten references a conversation she had with an HR professional at another company:
“I asked them, ‘How do people know there are opportunities open for them?’” Whitten explains. “And they said, ‘We have an internal job board! [Employees] just need to log on, search through it, and find something that fits.’”
The problem with this approach to employee development is twofold. First, it assumes that employees know where they should look to find development opportunities. Second — and perhaps more damaging — it overestimates the amount of free time and energy employees have. When are employees supposed to go digging through internal sites for development opportunities — during lunch break? Are they supposed to stay after hours to spend their evenings hunting for jobs at their own companies?
The dual failure to communicate development opportunities and make them more accessible to employees leaves the door open for recruiters to swoop in and snag a company’s best talent.
“What [HR folks] don’t realize is that the competitor will actively solicit the employees,” Whitten says. “They will call them, sell them, market to them heavily about everything they have to offer. It’s not good to provide passive options that require the employee to go out and do it themselves.”
Turn Your HR Department Into Proactive Storytellers
If HR departments want to retain their employees, rather than drive them straight into the arms of competitors, they need to first work on their storytelling skills, Whitten says.
For a while now, recruiters have been turning to marketers to help them improve their recruiting strategies. They’ve been learning how to better advertise positions, tell compelling stories, and engage meaningfully with target markets. Whitten suggests it may be time for HR to give marketing a call as well.
“[The recruiting-marketing partnership] has been a really good partnership for the companies that are doing that,” Whitten says. “For the sake of retaining internal employees — not just attracting new ones — it may be time for HR to partner with marketing to help them tell stories.”
But learning to be good storytellers isn’t enough in and of itself. HR has to not only know how to tell stories about professional development, but also how to proactively market those stories to employees.
“Let’s say Joe was able to move from a front-line position to management. Tell that story! Advertise it! Put together a video and push it out to employees. It’s your job to get it in the face of employees. You have to do a push — not wait for a pull.”
There’s one more thing HR departments should do, too: Put themselves in the employees’ shoes to determine whether or not career development opportunities are truly accessible. Is it easy for employees to find opportunities — and is it easy for them to apply for these opportunities?
“Sometimes, it’s just a matter of looking at the programs and saying, ‘What can I do differently?’” Whitten says. “Don’t just assume everything you are doing is available to employees and that they are aware of it.”