Nothing is worse than a dead-end job. Employees will frequently stick it out in tough roles with difficult managers because they know they're working toward something, whether it's a promotion or gaining valuable experience. Take those incentives away, and those same gritty, determined employees evaporate seemingly overnight.
And why should they stay? No matter what an employee is looking for, a job is about more than trading time for money. It's about finding fulfillment and working toward a greater goal. If employees feel as though they're treading water or going in circles, no amount of compensation is going to make them stick around.
Don't believe it? Research from Udemy indicates that development opportunities are the most important benefit for 42 percent of Millennial employees, and an IBM study showed that employees who don't see opportunities to achieve career goals at a company are 12 times more likely to leave for another job.
It can feel counterintuitive. After all, helping employees learn more skills makes them more expensive for you and more desirable to other organizations. Resist this shortsighted view. Employees are the core of your business. Make the following three practices a priority, and you'll help your employees bloom where they're planted.
1. Start a conversation about employee goals.
The employees who don't think you're invested in their success are the ones who seem to vanish without warning. The reality is that many employees aren't planning to work for you forever--embrace that notion and do everything you can to help them gain the skills they need to succeed right now. They'll appreciate your investment and work harder for you, and they'll probably end up staying longer as a result.
Have candid conversations with your employees about their goals, and make these discussions a regular occurrence. Do you have routine check-in meetings with your direct reports on the calendar? Great--now add goals to the agenda. Not sure how to get them to open up? Share your own goals first. If your employees know what you want out of work and life, they're more likely to let you know what they're looking for in an honest fashion. Also, develop a process for tracking employee career goals and progress made toward them. Make it clear that your team members' goals are as important as company KPIs. When you know what your employees want, you can begin to take steps to help them achieve it.
2. Encourage continued education.
Don't just pay lip service to professional growth--provide opportunities for it, especially if employees voice an interest in learning something new. Companies such as UPS encourage continued educationby offering an education assistance program, letting part-time employees earn up to $25,000 to put toward the cost of college. One part-time package handler, Joseph Lawless, used the program to earn a computer science degree. "We were all here to solve business problems (in my case via technology), and hard work and results were quickly recognized. That type of atmosphere combined with a policy of 'promotion from within,' is a great enabler for career advancement," Lawless says.
Henry Ford is often quoted as saying, "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80." Whether employees are new interns or seasoned executives, whether they hold a Ph.D. or a GED, you should always encourage them to learn and grow. You could offer financial incentives for continued education, as UPS does. Or you could develop a library of educational resources on various topics and give your entire team access to it. Just remember: When employees choose their own learning path, they're more likely to pick subject areas that interest them and to excel in those areas.
3. Facilitate peer connections within your company.
Mentorship is incredibly valuable to employee development, and you can take specific steps to encourage it in your organization. To plant the seeds of mentorship, "create a space for the people that don't get to spend time together on a day-to-day basis, advises George Brooks, founder of design-led product development agency Crema. "Give them time where they can actually meet with other people that do the same thing they do. That way, they can get better at that craft together."
Encourage interactions between employees in complementary departments, and they'll gain valuable insight into how their work fits into the organization as a whole. To accomplish this, use an online communication platform, like Slack, to open the door for communication, and pair up different departments when you hold in-house training workshops. You could also develop a formal mentorship program, connecting your veteran employees with fresh talent to raise the competency level of everyone in your company. Your more junior employees can learn from your senior staffers and vice versa. And working together through the mentorship program will foster collaboration outside of the program.
When your company is concerned with helping your employees achieve their goals, they'll work harder to help you achieve your own objectives and stick around to learn and improve as much as they can. Someday, they'll more than likely fly the coop. Teach them everything you can in the meantime, and they'll always remember you for it.