Career Development Complaints Is a Warning Sign and an Invitation

Sep 9, 2010
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

The Office's Michael ScottWhen CareerBuilder asked workers which TV bosses most reminded them of their own boss, it wasn’t much of a surprise to find American Idol‘s Simon Cowell and The Office‘s Michael Scott among the top ten.

But Judge Judy? Oprah?

I don’t suppose most of us think of Cowell, Judge Judy or Oprah as TV bosses, even if bossy and opinionated and judgmental fit two of the three. But hey, this is CareerBuilder’s gig and it’s just for fun anyway.

Oprah made the list because she reminded at least some of the almost 4,500 poll takers of their boss. “Very influential and informative,” CareerBuilder called her. The job board applied another “i” word to Cowell: “insulting.” Michael Scott got his own “i” word: “idiotic.” Judge Judy was “no nonsense and fair.”

There was a serious side to the online survey. Workers were asked their opinion of their boss’ skills and management qualities. The biggest shortcoming, identified by 61 percent of the participants, was in career development. They didn’t feel the boss was doing a good job preparing them to advance in the company.

The recession may be responsible for some of those feelings. With internal advancement limited by layoffs and frozen positions, managers may have focused their efforts on accommodating workers rather than promoting them. CareerBuilder says its survey found 72 percent of workers giving their boss high marks for offering flexibility in working arrangements. Only slightly less (69 percent) said the boss takes time to listen to them.

It’s tempting to laud management listening skills and flexibility, and shrug off the career development complaint as an inescapable consequence of the  recession. That would be a mistake. Every survey on the subject shows there is a sizable percentage of the workforce ready, even eager to change jobs. That we haven’t seen the ship-jumping doesn’t mean the surveys are wrong. There just aren’t enough opportunities there to entice hunkered down workers to risk a job change.

Towers Watson’s Global Workforce Study found 86 percent of U.S. workers ranked a “secure and stable position” as the most important consideration in a job; more so, even, than the historically top ranking “substantially higher levels of compensation” cited by 74 percent of the surveyed workers.

Having a job almost three years into the recession is a type of security, which explains why 81 percent of the workers in the survey aren’t actively looking, though 51 percent of them see no career advancement where they are, and 43 percent believe they have to change jobs to move up.

Wise HR professionals should take these surveys as an early warning. Internal career advancement may be limited, but that doesn’t mean bosses should be overlooking opportunities to help their staff develop the skills they’ll need when openings do come up.

Two years ago, when Lake Research Partners asked about career development, 25 percent of the workers said their boss was “not providing guidance and opportunities necessary to advance.” Now, almost three times as many workers feel that way.

Besides being good business to have workers ready to step up, it can also help ward off recruiter raiding. If large numbers of workers are unhappy with their career development, and a big percentage feel they have to leave their company to grow, that’s fertile ground for recruiters.  You can’t stop defections, but doing nothing will only make the best talent more receptive to other opportunities.

Consider who else made CareerBuilder’s list of TV bosses: MacGyver. Why? Because he’s “resourceful and can fix any situation.” You may not be able to fix career ladder stagnancy until the economy picks up. However, you can help your managers be more resourceful in developing their reports.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.