After several years in the same job, it's easy to feel like you're stuck in a rut. It happens to all of us. Sometimes, this feeling leads to employees beginning to job search, wondering what else is out there. These days, people are less likely to stay with one employer long term the way past generations did. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the average tenure for workers is somewhere around 4 years. But while it might be normal to think about moving on after a few years in a role, is that really the only solution when you start to disengage at work? Do you really have to leave to feel challenged again? Before you dust of that old resume and start looking for greener pastures, don't write your current company off just yet. There could be a better way out there.
Why does job stagnation happen?
Take a good look at your current job. There was probably a time when you were super excited about getting that role. It might not have been your “dream job”, but chances are you were happy about it. So what happened to take away that excitement you used to feel? Sometimes hitting a career plateau is related to a lack of job growth or development opportunity. Everyone wants to feel like they're advancing, after all. Other times it can be due to a lack of challenge. If you've done the role for years, odds are you already know all the answers or are just going through the repetitive motions. When people stop feeling pushed or engaged, their job satisfaction decreases. But it's not enough to keep your hands busy, you can still be disengaged even if you're on your feet all day. And when that boredom devolves into negative thoughts or beliefs about the company, that's when all the red flags should be going up for HR. Once the cycle of negativity has started, it's hard to turn things around and usually signals that employees are on their way out the door. The trick, therefore, is to get ahead of the problem before it reaches that point and there are tactics both HR and employees themselves can leverage to improve their level of satisfaction at work.
On the employee side of things
While jobs are more plentiful these days, job hopping should still be used judiciously. So when you can feel yourself start to disengage, is there anything you can do about it?
On the manager side of things
Managers have dozens of things on their plate at once but one of those responsibilities is talent management and employee development. Knowing what your employees need and helping them achieve their goals is the sign of a good manager. Their wins should be yours. So if a teammate wants to discuss their future with the company or their personal career trajectory the answer should always be, "Absolutely, let's have a chat."
That doesn't mean you need to agree to anything, of course, but it's always in your best interests to know what motivates your employees and where they're getting stuck. Listen to the employee’s concerns, ideas, and requests with an open mind. Try to get to the heart of what the employee is searching for. Some may want to take their next career step, in which case a performance review might be necessary with a goal plan of what needs to happen to get to the next stage and how long it will take. Or if the employee has become bored with their role, how about assigning them a new project that provides the opportunity to leverage other skills they don't often get to use? Some employee might also be looking for ways to increase their professional development. Offer access to the corporate learning resources for leaders, or send the employee to an industry conference. You could even arrange job shadowing or informational interviews with those further along the path the employee is walking.
Sometimes there simply isn't a solution to whatever the employee is concerned about and managers should be prepared for that reality as well. If a promotion is the only thing that will keep an employee and there are no open spots available, even if the promotion is deserved, then you can't in good conscience expect that worker to stay. But usually, conversations about engagement and satisfaction at work aren't so cut and dry. At the end of the day, whether you are an employee or employer in this situation, try to use your creative mind to come up with a short term and long term solution so that it works in your favor. The willingness to be a resource for your team might help improve employee retention and win you a committed and engaged workforce.
Don't underestimate the importance of employee development
One way to get ahead of these sorts of conversations is to plan for them right from day one. Eventually, everyone will wonder what the next steps in their personal or professional development should be. A talent management program that builds that inevitability into its framework will be far stronger and more prepared than ones which don't. Creating growth and development plans for employees can help strengthen areas of weaknesses and ensures the employee is getting the exposure and opportunities that will help them become a more well-rounded worker. Growth plans or learning objectives shouldn't be something done once and ignored, either. Instead use them in touch points and annual reviews to track progress and build out realistic timelines for career progression within the company. Self-development support can also come in handy for smoothing conflict on teams, improving interpersonal communication, and increasing self-awareness at work. So remember, whether you're wondering about your own life at work or that of others, you're not alone. Everyone is trying
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