Retaining workers who have outgrown their jobs

People change and grow, and some turnover can actually be quite healthy
By Brian Kreissl
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/06/2016


We have a number of employees who seem to have outgrown their jobs. What can we do to help retain and engage those individuals?


We all change, grow and move on in our jobs and careers. A job that was once a perfect fit for someone may not always be ideal for that person. While it is definitely a good idea to try to engage people as much as possible while they are still with the organization, some turnover can actually be quite healthy and it may not be a good idea to try to retain people at all costs.

What an employer wants from an individual employee may not be the same as what that person wants for her own career. That can be a problem when a highly valued employee isn’t promoted or allowed to transfer internally to another job simply because it would be too difficult, time-consuming or expensive to replace that individual.

Employing such tactics is a recipe for disengagement. In the end, it may be impossible to retain such employees anyway.

It is much better to try to retain valued employees in some capacity than have them leave the organization altogether. 

Where there is nowhere for such individuals to go, employers should focus on enriching their experience and provide meaningful development opportunities while they’re still there.

Outgrowing jobs, careers

Over the years, people master existing skills and acquire new ones. They may also develop new interests and want to take on greater challenges.

As individuals, we tend to change as we age and mature and acquire wisdom through experience. Our physical bodies change, and the way we think and recall information tends to change over time as well.

While there’s often a tacit assumption that people are inherently resistant to change, people can get bored doing one thing for the rest of their lives. Some people even thrive in an atmosphere of constant change. People may find they stagnate if they never move beyond their comfort zones by trying something new and different.

Many people even decide to completely switch careers. After all, we are often told we can expect to change careers several times in our lives. With so many jobs, functions and even entire industries disappearing virtually overnight due to technological advancements and outright disruption, people need to be prepared to change focus in order to remain current and employable. 

Particularly ambitious people tend to want to be promoted, take on additional responsibilities and increase their compensation. While lateral moves can provide valuable development opportunities — especially given today’s leaner and flatter organizations — many people would prefer to have at least some upward trajectory in their careers.

Tips for dealing with ambitious employees

Here are some tips to help deal with employees who feel they have outgrown their current roles:

Expand responsibilities through job enrichment and job enlargement initiatives.

Assign employees to task forces, committees, cross-functional teams and special projects.

Consider the possibility of temporary assignments and secondments.

Develop dual-career paths for employees who want to move into management as well as those who would prefer to remain in technical roles.

Provide employees with opportunities to train others and transfer their knowledge.

Avoid stereotyping employees based on their current roles or assuming they wouldn’t be interested in or capable of taking on greater challenges.

Develop a skills inventory for each employee in the organization.

Conduct top talent reviews and include high-potential employees in succession plans.

Provide adequate training and development and establish tuition reimbursement programs.

Ensure managers do not thwart employees’ career ambitions or refuse to release them for lateral transfers or internal promotions.

Create internal recruitment policies with reasonable time-on-job limitations for internal transfers and promotions.

Develop an employee alumni network and actively promote job opportunities to former employees.

Above all, it is important not to try to retain ambitious individuals against their will. 

Rather than trying to keep them in jobs they have outgrown, it is actually a better strategy to make it easier for them to move on to other roles they would be more suited for — whether those roles are within the organization or elsewhere.

Brian Kreissl is the Toronto-based product development manager for Carswell’s human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.

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