How Professional Development Can Increase Employee Retention

BY Kathy Crosett
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Are you striving to deliver professional development to your team members? If not, you should be. Companies across the U.S. are offering this benefit to employees at all levels because this benefit can boost employee retention.

Identifying Professional Development Goals

According to McKinsey research, today’s workers often enter an organization with a vague idea about wanting to get ahead. Frontline employees, in particular, those who earn less than $22 an hour, say they are looking for the following benefits from their company:

  • Job growth (79%)
  • Pay (78%)
  • Learning opportunities (75%)

When employees don’t have a clue about how to score a new job at their existing company, a good manager can make a difference. On a regular basis, managers should speak with team members about what else they’d like to do. A “what-​if” session can help employees envision where they see themselves in five or ten years. If they identify future jobs in the organization that might interest them, they can work with their managers to set goals for professional development.

Employees shouldn’t be left to struggle through this process on their own. MIT Sloan senior lecturer, George Westerman, and MIT Sloan Management Review Editor-​in-​Chief, Abbie Lundberg, report that one problem for employers is that employees don’t set specific goals for professional development. This lack of planning leads to one of the outcomes of the MIT survey in which “49% said a lack of good career advice has hurt their job trajectory.”

Professional Development Plan

Once employees identify their goals, managers can help them work out a professional development plan. Before designing a plan, managers should review the results of the team member’s psychometric assessment. Specifically, these results will indicate how well the employee’s current skill set matches the job they would like to have. 

With that information, you and your employee can decide which skills to develop. This plan can include shadowing a team member to understand the details of a position. If this action proves successful, your employee may then consider signing up for training. Training may be offered in-​house, in the form of coaching, for example. Or your team member could enroll in a formal certificate or higher-​education degree program.

Keep in mind that some employees may take this action on their own. Our research reveals that 37% of sales professionals have taken training or coursework in the past year to improve their skills. A similar number, 40%, of these professionals also noted that being offered professional development opportunities is a highly coveted benefit. But taking courses in the context of achieving a specific career goal works best.

Personalization and Ongoing Support

A professional development plan succeeds when your team member feels the skills they are learning can be applied to their vision of their future selves. If they are struggling to see how their new skills will be valuable in the next year or in three years, meet with them. At regular points, you might find it helpful to ask employees to engage in a self-review. This process will help them measure how far they’ve come and pinpoint what they need to focus on next.

Personalizing the professional development options that you offer to an employee will yield big benefits. If you roll out a daylong course on the new opportunities in AI or some other topic once a year, employees will find the information interesting. They might also enjoy regular lunch and learn sessions designed to educate them about what’s going on in other departments of your company.

But these generic efforts may not do much to move the needle when it comes to improving employee retention. To make a difference in that area, you should personalize skills training as part of the professional development program. Doing so will vastly increase your chances of retaining the 48% of employees who will change jobs if a prospective employer offers training programs.

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.