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Give staff a career goal to strive for

Motivating staff through career development is a key management tool in uncertain times, says Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management

While the UK business economy continues to be uncertain, the chances are that you and your staff are being asked to work harder and longer than ever before. You may also be contending with career uncertainty, reduced pay expectations, the fear of redundancy, non-existent promotion prospects and the high stress levels associated with intense pressure to perform. As companies restructure, career paths that may have been clear before are likely to be fuzzy at best now. These are all common features of today’s changed workplace.

Where staff morale is low, especially when trading conditions are tough, it is not unusual for employers to take the view that staff should just get on with it - that they are lucky to have a job and should stop complaining.

Encourage engagement

However, if managers want to raise performance and efficiency, then they need to gain the whole-hearted commitment of their staff. Remotivating your staff does not need to be costly. On the contrary, it can cost nothing at all.

One of the most effective things that line managers can do to encourage employee engagement is to spend time talking to each individual staff member about their career as opposed to their job. Find out how they want their career to develop in the short or long term and discuss ideas of how you and the organisation can support them.

Individuals may want promotion, work-life balance, security, to be an expert in their field, or none of these things. It could be just to earn a regular salary and leave at 5pm. Most people are realistic in their expectations and can understand what may or may not be possible. Your discussion can generate solutions and opportunities that work for both parties, helping to motivate and retain staff who were feeling disengaged.

For example, even where opportunities for in-house career progression have dried up, individuals can still actively develop their career. Where budget is tight or non-existent, low-cost solutions could include the staff member being mentored or mentoring others, work shadowing, training others, help in developing peer and professional networks, reading and research, taking up external voluntary roles, and so on. 

Where individuals feel they are stagnating in their job, job enrichment will become important. They could be delegated some more senior tasks, help with recruitment or induction, contribute to the company newsletter or help facilitate social media networks for the organisation. Explaining the purpose of the ‘stretch’ activities and the skills and behaviours being looked for will help them understand the value to them as an individual as well as to the organisation - otherwise there is a danger that they could just feel that more work is just being dumped on them. In the event that staff within the organisation are made redundant, outplacement support is helpful psychologically and practically for those who are leaving, as well as those who are staying. Giving practical job search help will smooth the exits of the leavers.

Importantly, it also sends out positive messages to the staff who are remaining, that the organisation treats its people well and can be trusted. Outplacement companies are experts in providing supported exits and can usually supply a range of solutions, dependent on budget.

Outplacement services

Where there is no budget for outplace­ment, HR teams may offer staff leavers some job-search support, for example by helping with CVs. However, demands on the HR team mean that this is rarely sufficient and it is frustrating for all concerned. At the very least the HR team should be signposting individuals to relevant outplacement organisations that can help them. 

In addition, if the organisation is willing simply to process the invoice for an outplacement service and offset the sum against the individual’s final redundancy amount, then it costs the organisation nothing at all, but the individual can save hundreds of pounds in VAT and tax.

Even in tough trading conditions, there is plenty of scope to maintain and even to enhance employee engagement. Paying attention to your employee’s career development is likely to increase the motivation, engagement and retention of your key staff. It costs very little and yet its impact can be huge.

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