Career progression drives a lot of people. But the rates of career progression seem to have declined. To make matters worse, employers often choose to hire externally rather than promoting from within. So, in some professions, it’s becoming much more difficult for people to advance along their chosen career paths. But the impacts of slow career progression are big. They can affect everything from wellbeing and employee engagement to productivity and turnover.

We want to bring to your attention findings published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Decade on decade, both male and female employees are starting lower down the “wage ladder” than in previous generations. This suggests that rates of career progression may be falling over time.

Since the 1980s, the rate of career progression for men has declined. Then there’s the fact that an ageing workforce means opportunities to reach higher levels of seniority are few and far-between. IFS also point to concerns about how the career prospects of young people will be affected by the uncertain economic fallout of COVID-19.

Taken together, these issues mean that many employees are starting at lower wages than they would have in previous generations. They are also seeing a comparative reduction in salary salaries than they would have seen in the past. This can’t be ignored, as it poses a real threat to the financial wellbeing of a lot of people. Of course, not every employee is looking to get promoted. But in general, most of your staff are likely keen to progress. So don’t make the mistake of assuming that someone has no desire to advance.

The impacts of slow career progression on employees

We do go on a lot about the benefits of employee engagement here at Zensai. But that’s only because it’s so important in becoming a highly-productive, highly-successful organisation. In fact, a study by Harvard Business Review and Quantum Workplace shows that over 80% of business leaders strongly agree that highly engaged employees perform better with greater productivity.

It can be tough when it doesn’t seem like your career is going anywhere. It can feel like putting in all the discretionary effort in the world won’t get you noticed.

At that point, there isn’t much to stop a formerly ambitious employee from becoming disengaged. A particularly interesting 2017 study of IT employees found that career development boosts employee engagement more than training initiatives alone. A lot of professional discourse lumps training and development together. This study is a rare exception, because it analyses the difference between the two.

And it makes rational sense. After all, if you’ve spent months or even years on training courses, you want to see it reflected in your career advancement. Going through all of that just to see no increase in pay, responsibilities or authority can be pretty disillusioning.

In a survey from CareerAddict, 82% of roughly 1,000 employees revealed they would quit their jobs if they lacked career progression. This supports findings from the LinkedIn 2018 Workplace Learning Report. That survey showed that 93% of employees would stay with a company longer if that employer invested in their careers.

What can we do about the impacts of slow career progression?

Many of the best employees are those who are actively career-driven. Part of a successful approach to mitigating the impacts of slow career progression must involve providing career development opportunities. But businesses don’t just have an infinite number of management roles ready to be filled. So employers need to be ready to fill the gap with other measures like job flexibility and skills training. These things can help employees stay engaged and boost their loyalty to the organisation.

The case for promoting internally

It’s definitely unrealistic to promote everyone who wants it. And when you need to fill a senior position, it’s tempting to window shop for the best external hire. But be careful about overlooking your existing staff.

Sometimes, it will be best to look outside the company. But if you constantly pass your own people over for promotions, they’re bound to take notice. It sends the message that there’s no point in working hard and trying to advance.

Promoting internally when you can proves to your people that it’s possible to rise through the ranks. And if someone isn’t fully suitable, it can be worth upskilling them. These training courses can certainly cost you. But then, it’s hard to put a price on the impression it makes on your employees.

Alternative development opportunities

Skills development: Speaking of up-skilling, just because there isn’t a higher role for someone to move up into doesn’t mean they can’t continue to develop professionally.

Slow career progression can seriously harm long-term engagement. Fortunately, there are alternatives that can give employees a sense of personal development. You can try to help them to learn a new skill, improve in one of their weaker areas. Employee education provides a vital sense of personal growth that helps staff to stay engaged in their role, while also putting them in a better position to be promoted in the future.

Workplace mentorships: Mentorships are a great way to help new employees settle into their role. But they can also be a very rewarding experience for the mentor as well. Mentorships are ideal for putting you in a position to promote from within. They have been found to significantly boost the career prospects of both mentors and mentees. Mentors can help their protégés figure out what skills to focus on. But even more importantly, they help mentees to navigate the social politics of work.

Other ways to support career progression

Regular check-ins decrease the impacts of slow career progression

One of the biggest impacts of slow career progression can be on an employee’s sense of wellbeing and motivation at work. This can compound over time, affecting their engagement and even driving them to leave the organisation. Without effective communication, these things can take you by surprise.

Checking in on a regular basis (such as with a weekly check-in from Engage365) allows you to track employee wellbeing and engagement over time. Check-ins encourage two-way feedback between managers and employees to support employee development.

Recognition counters the impacts of slow career progression

Often, it isn’t just loyalty to one manager that makes employees want to stick around. Rather, it’s their connections with various different colleagues. Effective managers build connections between their staff. One way of doing this is by enabling them to highlight each other’s positive performance.

For example, check-ins on Engage365 enable users to tag each other in special recognition-based questions. User profiles keep track of the mentions and pass-ups they receive from other employees. That way, recognition is always visible to the recipient, which is great for morale.

Ultimately, career development can look different for different people. For some, it’s the typical path up through management levels. For others, it’s more about honing core skills, learning new ones, and finding a specialization. But so long as you can identify the needs of individual employees, you’ll be able to give your people the support they need.