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Why employees think there’s no chance for growth at your company

Is there a career development perception gap at your organization? Here are five possible reasons that a gap may exist:

5 min read


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When it comes to advancing their careers, employees aren’t feeling the love.

That’s a key finding from a recent white paper produced by TINYPulse, a firm that specializes in gathering data on employee engagement and satisfaction. Only 26% of employees surveyed felt they had adequate opportunities for career growth. The managers of these same employees were more optimistic: 50% of managers surveyed felt there was adequate opportunity for professional development at their organizations. Talk about a disconnect in perceptions!

This gap in perception is costing companies in turnover and hiring costs, not to mention the loss of talented employees’ skills. Many managers fail to see how the way they communicate about career development has a big impact on how employees perceive growth opportunities.

“When it comes to career development, many managers think only in terms of the company’s official policies regarding career advancement” says Julie Winkle Giulioni, author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want.”

That’s a mistake, says Winkle Giulioni, because careers are developed more organically. Career development is far more than just checking off the boxes in a performance development plan. Moreover, managers have a lot more influence than they realize when it comes to helping employees grow.

“Careers are developed one conversation at a time, over time,” adds Winkle Giulioni.

Is there a career development perception gap at your organization? Here are five possible reasons that a gap may exist:

Fear of turnover

Most leaders worry about the void created when a talented team member departs. It’s one thing to dread the hassle of replacing a valued team member and quite another to actively avoid developing employees’ talents because you don’t want to deal with their departure. When people believe they have no future at an organization, they leave–especially the top talent. Rather than withhold career development for fear of losing good people, take a proactive approach.

“The most effective leaders demonstrate a mindset of abundance. They’d prefer that good people go down the hallway rather than down that highway,” says Winkle Giulioni.

One-and-done career discussions

When was the last time you talked with your team members about their career trajectory? If the only time you chat with your team about their career growth is during annual performance review time, you’re creating a huge communication vacuum. In the absence of information, people tend to make stuff up. If they aren’t hearing from their leader about how to grow their skills, they may decide there’s no future for them at your company.

Lack of clarity about “growth opportunity.”

When conducting career development discussions, leaders miss a big opportunity when they frame “career growth” only in terms of “promotion” or “advancement.” The reality is, the opportunities for promotion are limited. But the opportunity for developing one’s skills is limitless. Managers must broaden career discussions to help show employees how education, training, and work on specific projects add to a person’s portfolio of skills.

Complete hands-off on development

If you’re lucky enough to work for an organization with a robust self-serve learning architecture, you have access to an excellent career development asset. But it’s not enough to simply say, “Here’s the log-in to the account. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!” Employees need need you to provide a framework of expectations, accountability and check-ins to make individualized learning work. They also need time off to engage with the digital learning process.

Substituting praise as coaching for growth

When employees ask what they need to do to progress, it’s not enough to give them praise such as, “You’re doing a great job. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” That lacks the specificity needed to help them advance their skills.

Instead, say, “Here are three strengths that will serve you well in your next role. The area that I think you need to focus on developing is X. So let’s talk about how to give you the opportunities to grow that skill set.”

The good news about the career development gap is that it’s easily closed. The remedies aren’t costly in terms of time or money. But first, you need to see the gap. What would your team say about their perception of their chances to grow professionally on your team?

Once you have that answer, you’ll  know if you have to get to work closing the gap with additional discussions, training and setting of expectations.


Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

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