Career development still matters

If people’s careers are regressing, the risk of turnover is high

Career development still matters

Amid tragedy and disruption, career development has taken a backseat in the pandemic era. Many organizations have been forced to make difficult decisions, including significant layoffs, just to keep the doors open.

Now, there is a second wave and shutdowns are being enacted once again. This begs the question: Is it really the time to be talking about career and professional development?

Think of it this way. It’s been about a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, and we know that this virus is not through with us yet. As time goes on, career development is stalling, and careers are regressing for many, making the risk of turnover high.

As leaders and HR managers, it’s our responsibility to ensure employees feel connected to their job, to acknowledge their work and to recognize the value in the work that they do. Now is the time to restart conversations about personal goals and achievements, areas for professional development and educational opportunities that will help top talent reach their goals, become contenders for promotions and advance in their careers.

Consider applying the following strategies:

Have a discussion: Step away from a formal performance review and instead plan a discussion around performance. Review the current constraints that have come up due to the pandemic, logistics and the economy. Assess roadblocks and barriers and how they can be removed or modified to benefit employee performance.

In light of current working parameters, set performance goals and be sure to take a personal interest in employee development goals.

Questions to consider:

  • Does the “new normal” require new or additional skills?
  • Has the pandemic impacted your employee’s career path or career desires?
  • Has the current situation forced your employee to press pause on their career path or take a step backwards?
  • Is the pause intentional?
  • What support, tool or resources does your employee need at this point in their career journey?

Be open to charting an interim career path and identifying milestones and support required. This shouldn’t be a one-and-done discussion. Meet regularly to examine progress and changes and expect changes. Encourage open communication up and down the chain of command by equipping managers with the skills to manage these conversations as well.

Promote virtual training and learning: Once you’ve spoken to employees about their career development goals, you can fuel that growth by encouraging virtual training and learning opportunities. Investing in your employees’ development can deliver a strong ROI for your organization.

That can mean hosting a virtual lunch-and-learn session or workshop, giving employees the capacity to engage in virtual industry events, networking groups and conferences, and encouraging independent learning and cross-training among employees.

Establish a formal mentoring program: Considering so many of us are working virtually today, setting up a formal mentorship program can be an excellent way to transfer knowledge and foster connection among team members. It can also be a powerful onboarding tool for remote employees who are navigating corporate norms and nuances from afar.

For senior leaders who are grappling with how to manage remote teams, a coaching program that aligns personal goals with business outcomes may be the best path forward.

Support employees in defining and assessing priorities: With many concerned about the impacts of the pandemic, the past year has caused people to rethink their priorities. Employers must take a proactive approach in managing employee resilience and well-being, especially as the pandemic exacerbates mental health risks.

Career development shouldn’t feel like a weight added to employees’ mental load. Instead, consider integrating it into their allocated work time, setting the expectation that a certain number of hours will be spent on professional development each day, week or month, as opposed to an additional task that needs to be added to their already overflowing plates. 

Sheri Brake is the director and practice lead of business and the human resources consulting practice at Cenera, a business management consultancy based in Calgary. For more information, visit

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