A major challenge facing many organizations in the 21st century is attracting and retaining talent. In some high-growth industries, the unemployment rate is reaching record lows. For example, the unemployment rate in the information technology sector reached a record low of 1.3% in June of 2019. In technology, as in other industries, there is a real possibility of worker shortages, and organizations struggle to find and keep employees with the right mix of skills, attitudes, and experiences. Attracting and retaining employees should be a critical piece of the overall organizational strategy.
While an extremely low unemployment rate can (and does) drive up salaries, simply paying more for talent is an unsuccessful strategy. For one, there is a limit to what organizations can pay before it undermines the business model. Second, increasing pay doesn’t always address turnover, because employees will quit and start working for a competing employer if the competing employer offers a higher salary. Third, to become an employer of choice requires more than competitive compensation.
The question is, what motivates employees to stay with an employer long-term?
Early career professionals are near-unanimous in what they want from employers: professional growth and development opportunities. In a recent report from LinkedIn on professional learning, 94% of respondents said that they would stay at an employer if the employer invested more in their professional development. Because of this, employers must behave counter-intuitively to retain employees. Employers must help employees prepare for the next step in their careers. At times, employers can be reticent to provide these development opportunities, because they are worried that employees will find other career opportunities outside the organization. And it is true that some employees will always leave an organization to pursue other career opportunities. However, overall, employees are more willing to stay if they receive opportunities to develop new skills and grow their capabilities.
For high achieving, late-career employees, the “typical” levers that organizations use to motivate and retain employees don’t always work as well. For example, these employees may not be interested in promotions or more responsibility, which is often a powerful incentive for early or mid-career professionals. Even compensation and benefits may not be motivating: for some successful professionals, they may be financially secure enough to retire. Instead, employees towards the end of their careers are often interested in their professional legacy. In these situations, organizations must be creative in retaining experienced staff and stem the “silver tsunami” tide of retiring professionals.
A mentoring program helps retain employees in all phases of their careers. For early-career professionals, mentoring can provide them with the meaningful career development that they are looking for. One of the biggest developmental needs of young professionals is in their soft skills. While sharp technical skills may have helped them succeed at the individual contributor level, to rise to a position managing others requires enhanced communication skills, ability to collaborate, and leadership skills. A mentor can help protégés identify key developmental objectives, develop essential relationships in an organization, and sponsor them for stretch assignments. In fact, most professionals who make it to the executive level cite specific mentors in their career path as instrumental in their development.
However, a well-run mentoring program can also help retain individuals close to the end of their career as they reflect on the kind of legacy that they leave when they retire. One key way to do this is to help younger professionals develop and grow. Many late-career professionals say that the mentoring relationships they have are one of the most satisfying and meaningful parts of their work and careers. This can often motivate these professionals to stay on with an organization, rather than retiring early.
Additionally, regardless of age or stage of career, all employees desire a sense of purpose in their work. The ability to do meaningful work that impacts society in a positive way is one of the biggest drivers of employee satisfaction. For employees at the end of their career, having one (or several) mentees brings meaning and purpose into their work, because the impact of their actions can have a ripple effect. For early-career professionals, having a mentor helps them see the big picture, and how their work impacts others.
As one developing professional stated, it’s the purpose and legacy that shape one’s meaningful work. “When I attended my uncle’s funeral, I knew I wanted to invest more in my leadership growth,” he said. “He was an executive, and over two hundred employees showed up at his funeral. Countless people talked about the impact he had on their career and their lives.”
By facilitating these mentoring relationships, employers can help retain professionals for the long-term by giving them what they want: careers (and ultimately lives) full of meaning and purpose.
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