Firms Fall Short on Career Management

The prospect of employee development and career advancement is a major factor in talent attraction and retention. Yet many companies still struggle when it comes to designing career management programs and communicating them to employees.

Just 37 percent of North American companies say their employees understand how they can influence their careers, according to a new survey from global human resources services firm Towers Watson. Moreover, 44 percent say that employees are actually able to achieve career advancement given the structure and tools in place.

The survey’s findings are especially alarming considering the prospect of continued development is the reason many people join companies to begin with, while the lack of career advancement once they join is among the top reasons people leave, according to the survey.

“The big takeaway is that we need to do a better job designing and delivering our career management programs,” said Laura Sejen, global leader of rewards at Towers Watson.

There are several reasons organizations are missing the mark on career management programs.

The first is many career management programs are poorly designed. Only 30 percent of respondents in the survey said their company had defined vertical career paths for employees, and just 25 percent said they have dual career paths for managers and individual contributors.

Also, technology is not being used properly. According to the survey, 67 percent of organizations are using technology to provide access to learning and development programs, but just 44 percent of them make effective use of it.

Another issue lies with individual managers. Many of them are not effective in providing career management support to employees. Only a quarter of survey respondents said their managers were effective in this regard.

Finally, few organizations know if their programs are working. Just 38 percent monitor the implementation of career management programs to see if they are consistent with the firm’s overall objectives and goals, according to the survey.

The biggest gap companies must improve on, Sejen said, is manager engagement. The first step for human resources executives is to do a self-assessment of where the organization stands in these areas. She also said it’s particularly important for organizations to take an enhanced focus on bolstering career management and development programs as monetary increases have remained mostly stagnant while the economy continues its slow recovery.

Sejen also said putting more effort into crafting and communicating career management and development programs comes with a relatively low cost burden compared to its return. “There’s a big ROI if they get this right,” Sejen said.

Frank Kalman is an associate editor at Talent Management magazine. He can be reached at