Less Than Happy At Work? Take Charge Of Your Career

Most of us may think of Michelangelo as the Renaissance sculptor who gave us the statue David, the artist who gave us the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and the architect who gave us St. Peter’s Basiica. He did all of that, and much more.

But this 16th century genius also gave us insights that are appropriate for any time and place, including the 2022 workplace.

Consider this, for example: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it.”

That one sentence homily can inspire a lot of introspection. It certainly applies to life in general. It can also apply to people’s management (or lack thereof) of their careers.

One person who understands this deeply is Julie Winkle Giulioni, a champion for workplace growth and professional development for the past 30 years as a consultant, trainer, and speaker. She’s coauthor of the international bestseller Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go. Her latest book is Promotions Are SO Yesterday: Redefine Career Development, Help Employees Thrive.

Wondering what you can do to advance the careers of your team members, as well as your own? This smart woman has some ideas you can put to immediate use.

Rodger Dean Duncan: Even when their pay is okay, many of today’s employees report being disenchanted and dissatisfied at work. What’s going on?

Julie Winkle Giulioni: How long do you have, Rodger? Depending on the study, the list of workplace factors affecting satisfaction, engagement, and retention is lengthy.

One of the greatest sources of dissatisfaction today involves choice and flexibility. After a couple of years of successfully working from home, many employees are not so keen on returning to the office. Arbitrary schedules, long commutes, and lingering health and safety concerns are contributing to the disenchantment you mention—as well as unwanted turnover.


Beyond flexibility, employees are also prioritizing their development. According to LinkedIn, 83% or those leaving a job gave “I no longer felt like I was growing in my position” as a top reason.

Duncan: Multiple studies show that many employees will likely change jobs up to a dozen times over the course of their careers. In previous generations, that was virtually unheard of. Is job-hopping a sign of discontent, impatience, opportunity … or all of the above?

Giulioni: All of the above—and then some. As a young professional, I remember being counseled to stay in roles for several years, as moving too frequently would reflect poorly upon me. Later in life, I received the opposite advice: Stay for too long and you’ll be less marketable.

  • Sensibilities have shifted. It’s socially acceptable (and even desirable) to move around.
  • Moving among roles is more possible today. We’re more mobile than previous generations. Knowledge work can be done from anywhere. And technology gives us visibility to opportunities that our parents would never have known about.
  • Leaving results in greater pay and perks. Employers are willing to invest more generously to attract new talent than to retain the talent they have. As a result, compensation is optimized through job-hopping versus long-term loyalty.
  • The experience economy has invaded work. Employees are actively looking to curate a range of experiences that will add to their portfolio of capabilities and enable future opportunities.
  • Employees want to grow. According to Humu research, people who don’t perceive opportunities for growth are 7.9 times more eager to leave, even if they like their jobs.

Duncan: In past years, many employers focused career development efforts on their so-called “high potential” people. How does that compare with what’s going on in today’s workplace?

Giulioni: You’re right. In the past there was tremendous attention paid to both ends of the bell curve—frequently to the detriment of the huge part of the employee population in the middle. Problem performers demand time and resources by necessity, and high potential individuals were treated to exclusive development experiences.

Today, most of the organizations are working toward democratizing development and facilitating the growth of the broader population. They’re recognizing that it’s those steady performers who likely have the greatest effect on organizational outcomes and that investing in their learning and yield greater results. And they’re using technology and embedded development experiences as tools to scale development to meet the needs of more employees.

Duncan: Tell us about your research showing that most of today’s employees believe promotions are overrated?

Giulioni: Over the past ten or so years, I’ve developed the Multidimensional Career Framework. It’s model that expands the definition of career development in a way that better meets the needs of today’s employees and organizations. It offers seven alternatives to the classic climb up the corporate ladder including: contribution, competence, connection, confidence, challenge, contentment, and choice.

When we asked people to prioritize these dimensions in terms of their interest, the results demonstrate just how overrated promotions really are. In aggregate, all seven alternatives were more interesting than the climb. Contribution and competence topped the list. But climb was dead last.

Managers have long struggled with career development, in many cases avoiding it altogether because they believed they couldn’t offer what employees wanted. This research sheds new light on the issue and offers managers a helpful and hopeful new perspective. The other seven dimensions (unlike the climb) are completely within a manager’s control and offer countless ways to help people grow beyond, between and beside promotions.

Duncan: What role does trust play in the relationship dynamic between employers and employees?

Giulioni: Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and the employer/employee relationship is no different. Do I trust the organization to make good decisions—for me, my customers, and the broader world? Do I trust my manager to look out for me, to have my best interest at heart, and to advocate for my team? Employees who can’t answer “yes” to these questions must deploy mental and emotional resources toward vigilance and self-protection.

Duncan: For employees who want to focus on their contributions to demonstrate their value, what questions should they be asking themselves?

Giulioni: In aggregate, contribution is the Multidimensional Career Framework dimension that employee find most interesting.

We traditionally think of contribution as flowing in one direction—what the employee is doing to add value. Obviously, this is vital to organizational success. But contribution is also a vehicle for growth and development. When approached with intention, employees are able to not just give but receive powerful learning, new skills, expanded networks, greater confidence and more.

Employees who want to leverage contribution for growth should ask themselves:

  • In what ways could I step up more or differently in my current role?
  • What difference do I want to make?
  • Which strengths, talents, and superpowers are yearning to be exercised more?
  • What do I want to learn or experience in this role/around this project?

Duncan: What’s your advice to employees who work in organizations that seem oblivious to their need for career development support? Assuming the employees don’t want to leave, what proactive steps can they take in their own behalf?

Giulioni: We all need to own our development. It’s a lot easier if you work for an organization or a manager who actively supports that. But, when that’s not the case, there’s still plenty that an employee can do.

  • Engage in self-reflection. Clarify how you want to grow.
  • Engage your manager. Volunteer your growth goals, but back them up with specific in-role activities where you can concurrently add value and experience the desired learning.
  • Engage in mindful performance. Every role you’re in can be a sandbox for learning if you are intentional and mindful. Want to enhance your communication? Identify one or two specific skills and deliberately practice them during each meeting you attend. Afterward reflect (even for 60 seconds) on how it went and what you’ll do differently next time. This self-generated, self-driven development demands no organizational resources or support—just an individual’s commitment to growth.

Duncan: Today’s workplace needs seem to be changing faster than ever. How can workers get a smart fix on what skill-building they should pursue?

Giulioni: The Institute for the Future of Work predicts that 85% of the jobs we’ll be doing in 2030 haven’t yet been invented, so ongoing skill-building has never been more important.

Given the role of automation and AI, employees would be well served to double-down on human skills. Things like emotional intelligence and empathy, creativity, collaboration and teamwork, critical thinking, and leadership are what will be most necessary in the future.

Duncan: You encourage employees to “hone what’s known.” Tell us about that.

Giulioni: Honing what’s known is a strategy that helps to build confidence. It involves reinforcing success around current skills or tasks. By consciously cultivating the experience of effectiveness around current performance, we can help others internalize greater certainty around their skills, capacity, and knowledge.

While not always the most glamorous or exciting vehicle of growth, repeating a task or activity can hone one’s capabilities and create that sense of assurance, fluency, and next level mastery that inspires greater confidence. But this doesn’t occur as a result of mindless repetition but rather through conscious, intentional practice—and guidance and support from a manager like you who is committed to enhancing confidence.

Duncan: How can leaders encourage their people to take more responsibility for their own development?

Giulioni: Helping employees to reimagine career development and redefine it in terms beyond the classic promotional path is the first step. This gives people permission to think more broadly about what they want from their careers and how they can grow in ways that are more meaningful to them.

We offer a free online self-assessment that helps people understand their current interests and how to pursue them within the context of their current roles. This puts vital information in the employees’ hands, allowing them to demonstrate greater ownership and initiative around their development.

The Tycoon Herald