Career paths for Gen X, Gen Y

Keeping younger employees is about work-life balance, not titles and money
By Judy Sweeney
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/12/2008

Gen X and Gen Y employees have very different expectations from those of their parents when it comes to their careers. Gone is the sense of loyalty to an organization. Lifelong jobs at one company are neither expected nor wanted and if they don’t find interesting work within a company, they’ll look elsewhere.

But as recruiting becomes even more competitive, companies simply can’t afford to lose the talent they already have.

To help motivate and retain the Gen X and Gen Y workforce, companies should create a clear development plan for them. Career path planning is an effective way to motivate, retain and empower younger employees. This means providing younger workers with a variety of job-specific learning opportunities, closer relationships with decision-makers, effective mentoring programs and support in developing stronger leadership and management skills.

But the majority of companies aren’t going down this road, according to a survey conducted this year by Dublin, Calif.-headquartered Taleo Research and Washington-based Human Capital Institute. The study, of 550 respondents in Canada and the United States, found less than one-half (40 per cent) had developed a talent strategy. Of those with a strategy, only 29 per cent said it was focused on high-¬potential individuals.

The old days are gone

In the past, people were promoted primarily on seniority. Only a few progressive companies such as Proctor & Gamble established career planning based on grooming employees from within. They recruited people out of school and motivated them to move up within the company. Workers who climbed the corporate ladder had a good sense of what they needed to achieve and what their future looked like. This reduced turnover and helped people become better employees.

Modern career pathing takes this concept to another level. Organizations still need to recognize that, when it comes to an employee’s future, workers are more apt to stay if a clear development and career path exists. But the employee mindset has changed. Title and salary are no longer the number one priorities. Younger workers are more interested in self-fulfilment and work-life balance.

This generation has access to online communities and search options to create their own career plans. As a result, organizations need to consider an employee’s preferences and balance corporate objectives with the individual’s goals.

Happy employees, strong business

Companies should start with clearly defined corporate goals and objectives and determine the talent gaps to meet those goals. Then they should set aside time for employee coaching and guiding — rather than forcing a career path on employees. This means meeting with individual employees to determine short- and long-term career goals while developing mentoring and buddy programs. It’s ultimately about helping employees better identify short-term opportunities, which lead to more clearly defined long-term objectives.

Executing a holistic career-pathing plan also means clearly articulating career progression options to all workers. This includes putting in place planning and performance management tools that accurately measure and show worker progress on a continual basis. Instead of relying solely on the traditional carrots of pay and position, organizations should enhance rewards and recognition programs with benefits such as flexible work hours to provide younger workers with even more incentive to stay.

Companies should also educate managers on best practices and help them set performance expectations. Technology can also encourage retention by giving workers access to internal opportunities — further empowering them to take charge of their career path.

Providing growth opportunities for young talent should be a top priority. Developing such a program is perhaps the best investment an organization can make in its employees because it fosters an environment where these self-confident and in-demand employees feel valued and empowered and, as a result, are more likely to stay.

Judy Sweeney is the vice-president and head of Taleo Research. She is based in Dublin, Calif., and can be reached at or

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