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Reason #4: Too Few Growth and Advancement Opportunities

Limited career opportunities were found to be the #1 driver of overall employee dissatisfaction, cited by 59% of workers[1] in a survey by The Conference Board.

Comments expressing disappointment with career growth and advancement fall into 6 categories:

  1. Limited growth/advancement opportunities
    “There isn’t much opportunity to move up in the organization.”
    “Some departments have the money to promote employees while others don’t.”
  2. Unfair or inefficient job-posting process
    “Managers post positions, but take forever to follow through. They don’t even update us on the status of the application.”
    “Some jobs are not even posted; they’re just renamed and handed off as a promotion.”
  3. Not hiring from within
    “Most of the new hires are from outside the company, while there are plenty of good candidates internally that could have filled the positions.”
  4. Favoritism or unfairness in promotion decisions
  5. Insufficient training
    “I want to be able to grow, but the training that is offered only applies to my current position.”
    “The quality of the training given to us is poor, yet management increases their expectations of our work and criticizes us when performance does not meet their standards.”
  6. Other
    “They don’t have a clear direction for those who do not know what they want to do. Clearly defined career paths are not available.”
    “There is no career counseling.”

Part of these factors can be explained by the changes that have occurred in the workforce and the workplace over the past 20-30 years.

The new ‘wave’ of Gen X and Millennial workers are mostly responsible for this; new sets of expectations and demands create new opportunities, but also new problems.

According to Branham, these changes have created a “new contract” between employer and employee, explained in the table[2] below (qtd. in Branham 98):

In the old career contract model, many employees relied on their managers to manage their own careers. In the new contract model, employers must realize that their employees are in charge of their own careers, and they must communicate that to them.

Actionable tips for employers (Branham 101-114)

  • Provide self-assessment tools and career self-management training for all employees.

Without proper training and direction, some employees lack the self-awareness to recognize their own strengths, which may lead to them pursuing career paths that may not suit them.

In order to avoid this, organizations should provide workshops, software or other tools to help employees increase their self-awareness and enhance their goal-setting efforts.

  • Offer career coaching tools and training for all managers.

Since an employee’s direct supervisor is often responsible for most of the employee’s commitment and satisfaction, it’s very useful to train these supervisors in career coaching skills.

  • Provide readily accessible information on career paths and competency requirements.

After identifying their own skills and career preferences, employees need to be able to see what career growth options are possible at your company. The creation of career paths and competency maps make this much easier; this includes job descriptions, listings of competencies and educational requirements needed to qualify for certain positions. It’s a good idea to have all this information available on your company Web site.

  • Create alternatives to traditional career ladders.

Don’t force people to take up management positions as the only option to move up in your company. Create specialized high-level technical positions with greater responsibility and higher pay.

  • Keep employees informed about the company’s strategy, direction, and talent need forecasts.

Your company’s top performers need to be kept informed about the company’s evolving marketing and growth strategies, and the career opportunities that will accompany them.

  • Build and maintain a fair and efficient internal job-posting process.

Many employees tend to be naturally suspicious about the traditional internal job-posting process, since they’re often in the dark about how exactly the company operates in this regard. In addition, most of the time job postings are somewhat unnecessary since employees will have found out about the positions through informal means much earlier.

Branham suggests it’s more efficient to educate your staff about legitimate ways to obtain jobs internally, through career and self-management workshops

  • Show clear preference for hiring from within.

Hiring from within is more cost-efficient (you avoid recruiter fees, relocation costs, orientation and training costs, etc.), more convenient (the employee knows your company culture, has established relationships, understands expectations, etc.) and most importantly, communicates to your staff that hard work and dedication don’t go unnoticed.

  • Eliminate HR policies and management practices that block internal movement.

‘Blocking behavior’ happens when some managers want to retain the employees in their department so badly that they completely restrict or limit their ability to move to other positions inside the company.

You can avoid this by including specific mentions in competency descriptions and performance reviews that clearly communicate the message that the company owns the talent, not any individual.

  • Create a strong mentoring culture.

Mentoring is a fantastic way to increase retention in your company. One way to get managers to take their mentoring duties seriously is to include it as an evaluating criterion in their performance reviews. Also, train them.

  • Keep career development and performance appraisal processes separate.

There can be a conflict of interest when discussing an employee’s career development at the same time as their performance review. To avoid this discuss career opportunities with your employees at the 6-month interval between annual performance reviews.

  • Build an effective talent review and succession management process.

Succession planning in management is important to address; companies need to prepare leaders for, in some cases, positions that don’t yet exist. To help in this process you can:

  1. Conduct in-depth assessments of specific employees to see if their aspirations and abilities match the company’s future needs, and have them reviewed by higher-level management.\
  2. Have managers work closely with high-potential succession candidates.
  • Maintain a strong commitment to employee training

Recognize that investing in employee training leads to increased retention rates and higher levels of productivity. Don’t fret; it’s a smart business decision.

Actionable tips for employees (Branham 114-115)

  • Master the job you have now, first and foremost.
  • If you are in the wrong job, change to the right one. Love what you do, which means figuring out who you are in terms of talents, interests, values, and motivations.
  • Know how the money flows through the organization, what factors cause profit and loss, and what part of that you can control.
  • When no promotional options seem open, create a job that meets unmet company needs and makes use of your talents.
  • Seek continual learning by formal and informal means.
Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash
  • Familiarize yourself with career paths of those in positions to which you aspire, gain their advice, get realistic previews of their jobs, and ask them to be a mentor to you.
  • If a position you desire is not currently available, seek mini-assignments that will help prepare you and try out pieces of the desired job.
  • Exhaust all options for enriching your current job by seeking new challenges and satisfying activities in your current job before pursuing applying for other jobs.
  • Communicate your aspirations, talents, ideas, and plans to your manager so he or she can provide appropriate feedback, coaching, or sponsorship.
  • Re-energize your career by acting like an entrepreneur, by starting a new service or line of business for the company.
  • Before deciding to leave the company, communicate to your manager or to a trusted mentor the source of your career frustration and ask for ideas and assistance.


Branham, Leigh. The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act before Its Too Late. AMACOM, 2012.

[1] 1. Human Resources Department, ‘‘Talent Management Emerges as HR Department’s New Leadership Challenge,’’ Management Report, November 2002.

[2] Adapted from David Noer, Healing the Wounds: Overcoming the Trauma of Layoffs and Revitalizing Downsized Organizations (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993)

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