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Career advancement key to worker morale?

Many entry-level employees complete degrees at colleges and universities to begin careers at their respective industries. While it's important to break into the professional world and lay the foundation for adulthood, new workers also value the opportunity to advance their positions at work through special projects and various job openings. However, the benefits of planning for career development extend not only to employees, but organizations themselves.

Workers view advancement as motivation
Typically, people are brought up with the understanding that putting forth exceptional effort may lead to recognition from peers and supervisors alike. But sometimes workers need a helpful prod in the right direction, which can be guided by specific career paths at companies. With the knowledge that hitting certain benchmarks can turn into promotions, employees might be more inclined to work harder every day. According to a ProOpinion survey, 26 percent of workers feel that career advancement opportunities drive them the most at the office. This is important considering the time and effort some companies must put in to bolstering productivity and morale.

Career advancement programs can contribute positively to employee productivity.Career advancement programs can contribute positively to employee productivity.

Yet organizations can miss the mark when it comes to providing advancement opportunities that both attract and retain employees for any number of reasons. Forbes magazine explained that companies may be missing the necessary infrastructure or management to fully develop career pathways for workers. This can become particularly worrisome as workers' moods wane due to feeling stuck at their current positions. Without proper planning, staff could start looking elsewhere for improved upward mobility.

Promotions more important than money
It's not often that employees put salary and other forms of compensation at the bottom of their happiness lists, but that was the major finding from a CareerBliss market research report on worker morale. Reviews for more than 250,000 large companies in the U.S. showed that opportunities for career advancement and work/life balance were the leading factors on morale. This might be surprising to many managers who previously felt that competitive salaries were more integral to employee retention than job growth.

The Society for Human Resources Management reported that career advancement programs, which are specially-designing initiatives aimed to track employees to promotions, provided workers with the necessary skills for the positions. Proper training is essential to ensure effective development, but also lets supervisors rest assured knowing employees will be actively improving at their jobs instead of wallowing away in stagnant positions.

While this information is critical to understanding what keeps employees happy at work, organizations must review existing processes and revamp certain aspects as necessary. Even the smallest weaknesses can have significant impacts on workers' professional growth.

"Workers today value career growth over salary."

Career paths maintain retention
According to compensation software company PayScale, organizations should address employee dissatisfaction with advancement programs, as it can have effects on both hiring candidates and retaining existing staff. If employers fail to clearly outline career paths, workers' confidence in company culture may start to decline over time. Feeling like they belong and have professional goals and values aligned with the organization's growth keep employees around the office for a long time.

As a result, the keyword to optimize retention is loyalty - rewarding workers' contributions through growth rather than salary increases. Although it could vary on a case-to-case basis, throwing money at employees isn't going to make them become increasingly invested in the company. Instead, organizations would be better served developing career path programs that coherently outline the steps required to advance into higher positions. This conveys a stronger sense of value in employees and their efforts at the company. In turn, workers would feel more comfortable making long-term professional commitments to working for the business.

Improvement plans to the rescue
Creating advancement programs isn't a simple matter, leaving managers to develop unique pathways for a range of positions. To navigate this challenge, supervisors should consider drafting individual development plans (IDP), according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. 

IDPs can have the dual advantage of providing employees and managers with a clear understanding of what accomplishments are expected and which strengths are needed to advance to new positions. Workers will be handed specific checklists of goals to hit, while supervisors can more easily track professional progression. These outlined expectations leave no mysteries when it comes to advancement and allow managers to deliver ongoing feedback without the need for elaborate one-on-one meetings. In addition, IDPs lead to increased accountability for employees, who will no longer wonder why they haven't been promoted.

Without fully developed advancement programs, organizations risk losing employees to competitors offering better titles and career pathways. Workers should assess their concerns with managers to ensure that professional development is more valued than compensation, vacation or other fringe benefits included in full-time employment.

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