Is understanding your staff’s career expectations high on your priority list? Research suggests it should be, with 68% of millennial workers citing a clear path to grow in their role as the most important factor to staying engaged.

Some may argue however, that the development of younger employees’ careers is a waste of company time and resources. After all, the joke about millennials not being able to stay put seems to be rooted in some truth – 43% plan to leave a job within two years, and only 28% plan to stay beyond five years, according to a survey by Deloitte last year. So why invest in workers who won’t stick around?

Well in actual fact, there’s still plenty organisations can gain from supporting employees with their career development, such as improving employee retention, supporting succession planning and helping to attract new talent.

Illustration of a man at the top of a mountain holding a flag

So with this in mind, what can organisations do to manage employees’ career aspirations more effectively?

Have open career conversations

How often do managers in your business have honest and constructive career conversations with their people? Do they know what their employees’ aspirations are or what talents they may be hiding? If it’s not clear to employees how they can progress, it’s not unusual to find people sitting it out in roles that are way below their potential and where their skills are not being used.

Managers may kick back against performance reviews, but they are a great time to discuss where their people see themselves heading, how they could make best use of their talents, and how the business can support them going forward. Make sure the subject of career development is on the agenda not just at the annual appraisal, but also during informal check-ins. People are more likely to stick around if they feel they can talk openly about their ambitions, and that the business will do its best to support them in their goals.

Find out more about how to get the most out of performance appraisals.

Focus on the future

Chances are a high percentage of your employees have a view as to where your industry is headed, so why not use career conversations to help you build future-focused L&D plans? The world of work is changing faster than ever before, and tapping into internal knowledge, as well as external resources is bound to give you a more balanced vision.

And, if you are looking to broaden your horizons, the upcoming CIPD Festival of Work is the perfect opportunity to hear how other companies are stepping up to the challenge of employee development and retention.

Take a more flexible approach

Often, organisations are so hidebound by complicated pay and grading structures that they can’t promote people or expose them to new growth experiences even when they want to. HR and line managers need to think less rigidly about job roles, and collaborate in order to identify how they can best deploy the skills of their staff to meet people’s expectations and serve the needs of the business. One way of achieving this is to offer employees stretch assignments – i.e. the opportunity for workers to go outside the comfort zone of their job role and learn new skills whilst meeting the needs of the business.

If people can see that there is no way up – or opportunities to learn new skills – they will soon become frustrated and will start to look for an employer with a more flexible approach.

Give managers tools and support

Performance management is often not given the priority it deserves because managers find processes long-winded and time consuming – it gets shoved to the back of the list, and HR has to spend inordinate amounts of time chasing people to make sure appraisals happen. It doesn’t have to be this way. Sophisticated HR software is now available to take the strain, and help organisations streamline and bring consistency to processes. Systems can be set up to prompt managers when appraisals are due, for example. All the necessary forms can be made available on line and there’s a central place where information about what’s been discussed and agreed can be stored. Technology has moved on apace and these systems are now within reach of even the smallest business. Some solutions, like Cezanne HR, are extremely quick to implement and can be up-and-running in a matter of weeks, before the traditional year end/new year round of appraisals kicks in.

Take a creative approach to training and development

Lack of budget for training can be one of the key barriers to people developing their skills and moving forward. But development doesn’t have mean sending people on long and expensive training programmes. Organisations need to think more creatively about how they can help people develop the skills they need. Lunchtime learning bites, mentoring programmes, job shadowing schemes… these are all low-cost initiatives that can help people build new skills. The social portals that are integral to some of the latest HR software solutions can also support a ‘learning culture’ by making it easy for people to find the information they need and allowing them to share knowledge, work collaboratively on projects, and network across departmental boundaries.

Encourage internal hiring

Advertising job vacancies internally is a simple way of ensuring employees feel supported in their careers. Even better, directly recommending employees to apply for certain roles will further strengthen the relationship between them and the employer. Social portals can also be used for posting your internal vacancies, so that they’re available to all employees, rather than kept under wraps and creating tension and resentment.

And, you never know, you may find there are staff who have skills you weren’t even aware of and perfect for the role – meaning you can save a tonne on recruitment advertising.

What is your business doing to support employees in their career aspirations? Let us know what kind of initiatives are working well for you.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.