Your employees may be more interested in lateral career moves than you think.
A recent study conducted by my company, Cornerstone OnDemand, sheds some light on what influences these types of career decisions. Working with Kelton, a leading global insights firm, we conducted an online survey of more than 2,000 full-time American employees across various industries, asking them about everything from how many careers they think they will have in a lifetime to what they believe is the most important benefit an employer can offer.
Our findings suggest that American employees are motivated by professional growth opportunities that promise purpose and fulfillment but not necessarily a promotion or a bigger paycheck.
One of the survey’s most surprising findings is how willing people are to make lateral career moves into positions with similar titles and pay grades in different departments. We found that 89% of respondents said they would consider making a lateral career move with no financial incentive, for multiple reasons. There wasn’t that much difference between generations, either — 81% of Baby Boomers and 91% of Gen Xers felt this way.
When asked why they would be willing to make a lateral career move, the most common answers were to find greater personal satisfaction (57%), to pursue an entirely new career path (41%), and to take up a professional challenge (40%). Instead of racing up the corporate ladder to get the title of “Vice President” in a job they don’t find fulfilling, today’s workers are willing to sacrifice the time they’ve spent in their current position and completely start over to find something new that they hope will make them happy. According to a Gallup poll last year, only 31.5% of U.S. workers said they were engaged in their jobs, while 51% were “not engaged” and 17.5% were “actively disengaged.” It seems that employees are looking for ways to reverse their detachment.
Interestingly, among those willing to make a lateral move, we found that only 27% would consider doing so for a different company. In fact, 66% of employees will first look to see if there is an interesting and open position at their current company before looking elsewhere. What this suggests is that employees want to remain loyal to their current employers, but only if they have the opportunity to grow — by either finding something that makes them happier or being given the chance to tackle a new challenge.
However, only 32% of respondents said that their employer encourages employees to work in different departments to gain additional experience and skills. This means that employers are missing an opportunity to retain talented employees who are looking for a change.
And change can be refreshing, even if you’re not making more money as a result. A recent LinkedIn survey, “Why and How People Change Jobs,” revealed that one in three people who recently changed jobs changed careers entirely. They found that these career changers wanted to be challenged, found their old job a poor fit for their skills, and were curious to try out a new industry. When asked why they left their last job, 45% of respondents said they were concerned about the lack of opportunities for advancement, but only 34% said it was because they were unsatisfied with their compensation and/or benefits.
In our study, more than half of respondents (and more than three in four Millennials) reported that they expect to change careers — not just jobs — at some point in their lifetime. We found that 42% of respondents expect to have three or more careers.
Clearly, learning is a big motivator for these people, and employers can use that knowledge to better keep employees engaged. Our findings highlight a few things for employers to consider doing:
- Clearly communicate career growth opportunities. Most respondents said that their employers don’t provide resources to help plan their career (84%) or guide professional growth within their organization (70%).
- Promote work-life balance. Nearly a third (29%) of employees in the study said they resigned due to feeling burned out from being overworked or lacking a healthy work-life balance. This is related to the 55% who reported that their employers expect some people to be on call after hours and on weekends.
- Offer relocation options. Although remote working is now commonplace, many American employees would jump at the chance to work in another city, even if just temporarily — 77% of respondents would choose to relocate if given the opportunity. Additionally, more than 61% would go to great lengths to be able to work abroad, such as by conducting a web conference with their boss every day (39%) or working six days a week (28%). For companies with offices in multiple locations, offering employees the chance to relocate can be a powerful motivator for keeping employees engaged and interested in continuing to work for the company.
Employee development not only helps with engaging and retaining top talent but also drives better bottom-line results. Research conducted by human resource consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison in partnership with the Human Capital Institute shows that 81% of organizations who are committed to talent mobility report on- or above-target revenue growth — compared to 68% of other organizations.
Author credit: Kirsten Helvey