How to be more open to employees changing career paths

Valuable employees deciding to change career paths does not have to be bad for business - as long as companies make it easy for them to move internally.

Traditionally, a career change may have meant handing in your resignation, returning to education, and starting afresh at a completely different company. Yet by fostering a culture of opportunity and supporting ambitious employees, employers could retain their top talent while boosting loyalty and engagement.

Career changes are a hot topic, as events such as the global pandemic and the cost of living crisis force employees to reevaluate what they want from their work life. 

According to Page Group’s recent Page Pulse survey, 26% of workers are considering a career change in the not-too-distant future, while 44% have already made the leap to something new. 

What’s more, 31 is the most common age for a career change, suggesting a ‘ten year career itch’ occurs after around a decade in the workplace. 

Why are employees so keen to overhaul their workday? 

One in three said they want to pursue a career with better opportunities to increase their earnings, while 32% said they wanted a role they felt more passionate about. A better work-life balance (15%) was also among the biggest factors in such a decision.

A significant hurdle to a career move for 23% of those surveyed was a lack of confidence, while 20% are unsure if they already have the skills to facilitate the move. These are both factors employers could support employees on. Indeed, 21% of those who returned to education as part of their career move had their training funded through their employer.

However, for 13% of those surveyed, the skills and experience they already had were transferable to their new sector or job function.

So how can businesses become more open to internal career changes and build an engaged and loyal workforce who simply don’t want to leave?

Make employee development a core pillar of the organisation

Businesses can’t just talk the talk when it comes to personal development - they have to walk the walk too. If an employer’s corporate branding promises a strong emphasis on personal development that simply isn’t there in reality, leadership will be labelled inauthentic, and employees will feel undervalued and ultimately leave. 

This is why personal development initiatives must come from the top down, and be sewn into the very DNA of the company. Explain to the members of your leadership team why personal development must be prioritised, and empower leaders to empower managers to support employees with aspirations outside their immediate remit. 

Don’t pigeonhole employees

Leaders should avoid viewing each employee simply as their job function. Instead, look at their wider skills, experience, and ambitions. You may have skills within the business you were unaware of. 

Engender a culture of fluidity within the business - if an employee is qualified and capable of contributing to a project not directly within their remit, can you make that work? Is it possible for employees to split their time between different departments, or gain access to further training from colleagues in different job functions?

Offer flexible career paths

While flexible working is now standard in most organisations, companies looking to boost retention should also offer flexible career paths to meet the needs of today’s evolving workforce. 

Consider how the pace of an entire career can be flexed across different life phases, from young graduate to working parent to experienced employee to a team member who is nearing retirement. 

From day one, acknowledge the employee may arrive at a stage in their work life where they want to change career path, whether that is to grow professionally, achieve a better work-life balance, or take their foot off the gas. Vitally, make it clear that not only is that possible within the business - but it’s encouraged. 

Lifelong learning should be normalised and available to all, internal opportunities should be advertised widely, and an agile culture should be fostered. Steer away from laying out only traditional siloed career paths such as a ‘management’ career path or a ‘product’ career path - and consider that staff members may wish to leap from one to the other. 

Consider funding further education - and offer training for all

A lack of qualifications - and the time and money to gain these qualifications - is a huge hurdle for people considering a career change. 

Many employers fund university degrees, apprenticeships, and online courses to help their workers develop professionally, and unlock new career paths for them.

When it comes to internal training, don’t gatekeep. Where possible, offer training to all staff members, regardless of whether the subject area applies to their remit or not. Not every employee will take up every training session, but they will appreciate the opportunity to upskill in different areas for free. 

Foster a culture of openness and opportunity

In most cases, if an employee wishes to leave their team for another opportunity, their manager may see this as something of a headache. They will have to hire a replacement, conduct training, and provide cover - essentially it’s more work. It’s important to discourage this mindset. 

Instead, promote a culture of openness within the business. If an employee is considering a post with a different department, they should feel able to be transparent with their manager about the situation, and also lean on them for support as they apply for and transition into that role. 

Consider incentivising managers to support their teams through personal development milestones, whether those milestones relate to their current job function, or another one in the company. At the very least, developing their team members should be an important part of managers’ own personal development plans.

Offering employees access to HR staff or career coaches is another way to promote professional growth within your organisation. 

Facilitate an internal application process

A successful internal applicant process will not penalise employees for considering other posts within our business. While in an ideal situation the worker would feel able to discuss their application with their manager, the process should also provide confidentiality for more complex situations.

Ensure job adverts communicate that the company is happy for internal candidates considering a career move to apply. Make it clear that their experience with the firm would be an asset in the role - not a hurdle to applying.

Have a clear policy on career path changes

Create a clear, accessible, company policy on career path changes. Those considering an internal career change will be encouraged by the fact there is a formal, established pathway to this type of progression. 

Cover how the application process should work, the level of confidentiality an employee is entitled to, and what is expected from them as they transition from one role to the next. 

Use language that makes it clear career changes are seen as positive professional growth, rather than a logistical challenge for the company. 

What’s next? 

Struggling with retaining your top talent? Read the Michael Page guide to keeping your star employees here.

Want to know more about what top talent want from their employers? Download our latest Talent Trends where our data reveals a complete job market transformation. Employers must rethink and recalibrate their approach to retention in line with this changing workforce so make sure you’re in the know. 

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