A few weeks ago a popular café near me closed. The problem was not a lack of customers; it was a lack of workers.
The owner said that when he asked servers and line cooks why they didn’t want to work, the most common answer was: “I don’t feel like it.” Kinda says it all.
The pandemic has forced millions of people into new ways of doing things—working from home or with greater flexibility or without a commute, surviving without a paycheck, spending more time with family. Many people found they liked some of these changes, or at least they realized they didn’t like what they had been doing.
One man described his old job to me as such: “I hauled my sorry carcass out of bed every morning and trudged off to my job, did work I didn’t get credit for, got in trouble for things I didn’t do, tried my hardest to keep everything afloat, then returned home to repeat the process the next day.”
We human beings are driven to find and create meaning in our lives. Nothing much meaningful in that description.
In contrast, over the last few months I’ve found stories that give me hope. There are individuals and teams among us who are able to find and keep great talent, with people who are passionate about what they do and energized when Monday comes.
I’m finding something in common in their success. The managers who are excelling at keeping and engaging their workforces during this Great Resignation are taking just a few minutes every day to coach employees on their career development.
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Consider that a Gallup poll of millennials and Gen Z found 87 percent “highly value” growth and development opportunities. Sadly, just 39 percent of young employees felt that they had “learned something new on the job in the past month.” When leaders offer workers regular chances to learn and advance—and find ways to help secure their futures within an organization—more of their valuable employees do stay. Few of us quit jobs that offer living wages, realistic opportunities for advancement, and one-on-one career coaching from a caring leader.
So how can leaders and individuals better chart paths forward? A few ways include:
1. Create More Steps to Grow
If it’s possible, one effective way to alleviate employee ennui is to create more steps on the promotional ladder. At Ladders, an online job search website, CEO Marc Cenedella has changed his company’s promotion schedule to provide new hires with six promotions over two years—with performance hurdles, title increases, and pay bumps every step of the way. He said, “We learned that more frequent career feedback, with better chances for getting ahead, and some self-direction were actually very effective tools for building morale and contributing to the success of our company.”
Cenedella said new hires work hard to reach each new level. When, after just four months they move from junior analyst to analyst, they call Mom and Dad and share fist bumps with team members. And thanks to a focus on mastering specific levels of accomplishment before moving to each promotion, Cenedella also says Ladders now boasts a more capable and focused workforce.
2. Coach Employees About How to Get Ahead
For many employees who feel they aren’t going anywhere in their current position, it’s often due to a lack of understanding about the best tactics for standing out as a candidate for promotion. Dr. David B. Peterson, former director of executive coaching and development at Google, stresses that too many employees are focused only on optimizing their performance in their current role—pleasing their current boss—and are not planning for growth into new challenges. That can exacerbate anxiety and create burnout.
Peterson advises managers to take their team members through something he calls the “reality test,” looking back a week and then ahead a week at the employees’ calendars to see how much of their time is spent on tasks that will help get them where they want to be a year from now. Do their daily actions align with their expressed goals? Obviously the bulk of a person’s time will be spent on current tasks, but if little to no time is spent in learning and growing, there’s little chance the person will ever move up, and a better chance the person will leave. Dedicating just an hour or two a week is a big start to learn desirable skills and align their focus with their long-term personal development goals.
3. Help Employees Assess Their Motivators
A big part of career coaching is helping employees gain clarity about the path they’d actually most like to travel, which many employees are unsure of. Indecision can lead to resignation.
Chester Elton and I built the Motivators Assessment with Drs. Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, authors of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” to help determine an individual’s unique core motivators on the job. We’ve found a crucial element in employee engagement is for people to be authentically motivated by the work they’re doing. Makes sense, right?
Of course, all of us have aspects of our jobs we don’t particularly enjoy. Everyone has to take out the trash, so to speak. But we’ve found managers can help employees become more committed and satisfied in their careers through a process we call “job sculpting”—finding assignments employees might transfer to someone else on the team, tasks that may be altered somewhat to become more motivating, and—best of all for the manager and employee—those things they love doing that may be added to their plates.
4. Tailor Development to the Person
Having regular, individual career-development conversations with employees allows managers to better discover the ways in which each of their people want to enhance their skills. Dan Helfrich, CEO and Chairman of Deloitte Consulting, told us he starts career discussions by asking his direct reports: “What do you want to get better at?” He said, “I want to know about a challenge they feel ready to take on but haven’t been given the chance. Then as the time goes along, wow, the alignment that comes from giving them small tasks or opportunities that comport with what they shared with you builds their confidence that what they say really matters.”
Make no mistake in all this, I do not advocate a world filled with people who do only what they love. The world cannot possibly sustain more professional beer tasters or cruise ship crooners. But I do suggest that the best leaders are discovering that a simple way to help keep their employees during these difficult times is to better understand their ’ motivators and do a little sculpting of the nature of their jobs to better match duties with their unique drivers.