5 Ways to Help Employees In a Mid-Career Crisis
Conventional wisdom says that workers suffering a mid-career crisis are often bored and should look for opportunities to advance, to take on new roles, and to mentor. Historically, advancement or a change in roles has meant leaving one company for another. However, in the recent nearly zero unemployment economy, organizations are looking for ways to retain high performers and keep the institutional knowledge and experience of mid-career employees inside the company. Talent mobility within organizations is becoming a highly effective way to keep employees engaged -- when it’s done right. Unfortunately, too many companies recognize the need for talent mobility but still do not have effective processes in place to make retention of those in a career slump a reality.
The truth is, if you’re not creating internal career development opportunities for your employees at every stage of their careers, you risk losing institutional knowledge and job experience that’s not easily replaced. While HR departments and the media has been focusing on attracting and retaining millennials, employees from all generations with lots of great skills, experience, and institutional knowledge have been sitting at your company wondering ‘what’s next?’ Help them answer this question with opportunities within the organization.
Here are 5 ways to get started retaining employees before they have a mid-career crisis.
#1 Talent Mobility
For employees faced with boredom and burn-out, mid-career is not too late to make a major career move, even if the current situation is stable. Ideally, if your employees are effectively managing their careers, they would have already identified a satisfying career path within your organization. However, if those opportunities aren’t encouraged by the employer, or if there is no clear path to change, those same employees may be navigating themselves outside of the organization.
The challenge for most organizations, is that high-performing employees are often the ones that neglect their own career management – until it is too late. Even when they stop enjoying their work, these people are often driven to continue to perform hoping that things will improve. Once the mid-career slump settles in, these individuals are no longer looking for a solution within your organization, instead, they’re already looking outside of the company for their next move.
As a career coach, I often counsel people who have been stuck in the same job for years. In many instances, the organizations they work for haven’t taken the time to find out what they need to continue to feel valued and passionate about what they do and they’ve become disengaged and disinterested in their work. In these cases, I think companies are actually doing their mid-career employees a favor when they decide to transition them out of the company during workforce restructuring events. Although the news is difficult for the employees to hear, it effectively forces these individuals to take a step back, reflect on their careers, and create proactive plans for moving forward.
The outcomes for companies losing these employees is less positive and avoidable. Keeping lines of communication open, identifying employees early, and having paths for a variety of career options are the ingredients that result in engaged, productive, and mobile workplace environments.
# 2 Be proactive
Many people do not proactively manage their own careers. Instead, they simply allow their careers to run their course without much strategy or goal setting. While allowing employees to simply “settle in” and stay in their lane may seem like the path of least resistance to employers, it comes with its own set consequences. Namely, employee churn and loss of knowledge and experience. In the war for talent, organizations hoping to retain valuable talent need systems to identify these individuals and re-engage them. Instead of waiting until they’re bored, managers and HR departments should engage employees at all stages in career discussions to better understand where they fit in the future of the organization, and to create a plan.
The key for employers is to establish an environment that’s safe and supportive. Employees aren’t going to express their job dissatisfaction unless they know their employer is invested in supporting them, no matter their career choice. People who are at mid-career or later, may want to change the structure of their workday and work experience. Joining the gig economy is becoming a popular way for individuals at these later career stages to remain passionate and productive. Instead of losing top talent as consultants to other companies, be open to alternative employment agreements. Your employees will get the benefits of pursuing their desired career paths and your organization will reap the rewards of their contributions.
When open and honest communication exists within an organization, there may be times when there is no future for an employee internally, companies can help by assisting that individual to search for opportunities externally. Companies need to be able to profit from the employee’s contributions, and if the employee is not providing that anymore, it is up to the manager to communicate that news directly to the individual.
Providing a career coach and other career transition support typically reserved for employees who are being laid off will help mid-career employees overcome some of their unique challenges, including requiring a higher salary, the amount of time they’re willing to stay in traditional employment, and the need to learn the newest technology, among others. A career coach and transition support programs can help those hoping to make a job switch to identify the value they bring to an organization, create a professional brand, and find the right organization that fits their expertise, unique skills, and desires.
#3 Communication is key
Open dialogue between managers and their team members is critical for a true talent mobility model to work. Employers who are open and honest about where their mid-career employee stands during a career development discussion are more likely to get positive results. The challenge for HR leaders trying to build a culture that supports talent mobility is getting the buy-in of managers and setting up systems that make having those conversations a natural part of the workplace culture.
While companies like to say that they have an active talent mobility model within the organization, the reality for department managers, the prospect of losing a high performing employee has the same impact whether that person is leaving the company or the department. Some managers may fear that opening the door to letting employees determine their own career fates and decide on their paths will encourage everyone to leave, that is simply not what happens. In fact, managers may find that initiating open and honest dialogues with team members instills a greater sense of loyalty and provides opportunities to find challenges and career development paths within the department.
The importance of ‘breaking down silos’ has been bantered around for several years now. While the idea is solid, the reality has been a little spotty. Convincing people who have accountability into their own department goals and performance that allowing key members to move within the company is better for the overall organization can be a hard sell. The result, employees tend to move from one company to another when they’re looking for a challenge.
#4 Create micro cultures of career support
Creating change is hard and people naturally tend to resist change. HR leaders know the difficulty associated with initiating programs that require a mindset shift. In every organization there are managers and executives that agree with your strategy and those who are resistant. Instead of trying to change everyone at once, try to create micro cultures of change.
Start by identifying those managers that already agree that a culture of talent mobility is best for their teams and the organization at large. Work with those managers to initiate and test policies and procedures for enabling career mobility. Help by identifying those people who have been with the organization longest and may be experiencing burn out or job fatigue.
Work closely with those managers to establish pockets of proactive career support. Once you’ve been able to successfully retain talent, re-engage employees, improve productivity, or meet departmental goals, use those successes as case stories to share with the rest of the organization.
Make the managers your “talent mobility” evangelists and offer them as resources and testimonials to the success of the project.
#5 Be a retention analyst
HR initiated programs are no longer just ‘nice to haves’. In today’s tight employment economy, employee retention is vital to the continuing success of most organizations. If you haven’t already, this is the time to take your seat at the table as a strategic partner. If you’re responsible for the employer brand and for filling job requests, you need to have a say in how the organization treats its employees, at every stage of their employment.
In addition to sharing the sentiment of managers who have adopted your talent mobility model, start tracking your results through retention metrics. Be sure to include a comparison to the departments who are not actively identifying individuals in a career slump. or others who are feeling dissatisfied. Making managers accountable through retention metrics is a good way to build a case for your initiative. Tracking the analytics of your efforts will also provide valuable insight into the impact of your HR programs on retention and recruiting goals and allow you to make adjustments along the way.
Supporting employees through career development programs that allow for flexible employment and includes talent mobility programs does not mean that every employee with stay at your organization for the entirety of their career. It does mean that employees will build a positive relationship with you, their employer, and if they do leave they’re more likely to become a brand evangelist, reference, or loyal customer. Who knows? If you treat them well enough, your past employees may decide to come back to the company at a later date, bringing additional skills, experience, and knowledge to combine with the institutional knowledge they gained the first time.
As an executive career coach working with participants in RiseSmart’s contemporary career transition services, Laura Olert brings to the coaching partnership a first-hand understanding of the dynamics of the corporate world, expertise in coaching and career management, and a genuine passion for helping executives navigate through career transitions to land their new roles.