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Sep 1, 2015

Do you have a job or a career?

One-third believe they have a job not a career

By Brian Kreissl

According to a recent study conducted by Mercer, Employee Views on Moving Up vs. Moving On, 32 per cent of employees surveyed in the United States and Canada said they considered their employment to be a job as opposed to a career. However, 78 per cent felt they would stay with their current employer if they had an idea what their career path looked like.

While many employees would prefer to have a job with opportunity for advancement and a clear career path mapped out for them, it’s obvious many employers these days are failing to consider the career aspirations of their employees or help them with career planning in any meaningful sense.

Career planning an afterthought

For years, organizations tried to avoid being overly paternalistic with their employees by placing most of the burden of career planning and personal development on them. In many organizations, career planning was viewed largely as an afterthought other than perhaps for high potential or very senior-level employees.

Frequently, career planning is something that’s talked about only as a small part of an employee’s annual performance review. Many managers in particular believe careers are only for people in senior positions – or they don’t want to lose their team members so they’re afraid to talk about next steps on the career ladder.

In some cases, managers don’t really know how to advise their direct reports about career paths due to flatter organizations, fewer positions at the top and a lack of appreciation for those individuals’ real talents and interests. It can also be limiting when managers assume every employee wants to move up in the hierarchy or are nervous because they believe their direct reports are after their jobs.

But that kind of laissez-faire or self-serving approach to career planning doesn’t help anyone – not even the organization. Refusing to think about career paths or talk meaningfully about next steps is a recipe for employee disengagement.

Even if an employee needs to leave the organization to further her career interests and ambitions it’s better to be upfront and honest with her. On the other hand, if the employee is highly valued and the organization is serious about retaining and engaging the individual as long as possible, it benefits the employer to help make the individual employable elsewhere by providing advice and support along with adequate training and development opportunities.

Simply having a robust tuition reimbursement program like Starbucks in the U.S. goes a long way towards allowing employees to feel valued and avoid feeling trapped in their jobs – even if what they’re currently doing isn’t brain surgery and isn’t something they consider to be a “career job.” Just because someone is working as a barista or cleaner doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have career goals or ambitions.

Not pigeonholing employees

It isn’t a good idea to pigeonhole people based on their current roles and assume they aren’t capable of more or wouldn’t want a position with more scope at some point in the future. I personally have been in that situation, and it feels downright patronizing and insulting to learn that a manager or executive has you pegged as a “steady Eddie” or a “lifer” – particularly when you’re chomping at the bit, literally screaming out for more responsibility.

Another problem is the workhorse employee who is a real go-to person within the organization. In many cases, managers don’t want to lose those individuals and avoid promoting them or allowing them to transfer elsewhere internally. But keeping those people in their jobs against their will won’t help in the long-run.

Not everyone even wants a career as such, and many people are satisfied with simply having a job that pays the bills. However, that doesn’t mean people who aren’t interested in climbing the corporate ladder can’t be focused on their careers.

Many people are content with lateral moves or perfecting their skills and competencies in their current roles. It could also be that someone is focused on his family for the time being.

In spite of all of the importance of career planning (assuming one is actually looking for a career), as I mentioned earlier this year, I still don’t think it’s healthy to obsess over one’s career either. The most successful people often seem to take a “set it and forget it” approach to career planning by getting it right early on and staying on track.

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