Employers find themselves facing a candidate-driven employment market in 2021, much like what we saw prior to the onset of the pandemic in 2019 and early 2020. Even though remote working—and hiring—lets you cast a wider net for candidates, there are generally more job openings than professionals looking for new work.

Because of this, competition for skilled talent is fierce, and recruitment pressure is at an all-time high. Many businesses are growing their teams, which means that top-tier job seekers often field multiple offers at once.

Even if you have a great team in place, you can’t rest easy. As more companies look to expand, they’ll try to win over your top talent if they get the chance. To prevent this, businesses need to focus on retention and invest in their people.


Research by Robert Half shows that staff retention is a source of unease in every industry, with 88% of senior managers worried about losing their best people.

Leaders are right to be concerned. Another Robert Half survey found that 38% of employees feel their careers stalled during the COVID-19 era. That figure rises to 66% for Gen Z professionals, many of whom are in their first jobs and understandably anxious to make progress. Workers experiencing a stalled career report feeling “stuck” when it comes to:

  • Salary growth (54%)
  • Career advancement (47%)
  • Ability to grow their professional network (47%)
  • Skills development (44%)

Perhaps most important in terms of retention, about one in three professionals (32%) said their shift in feelings toward work due to the pandemic is prompting them to pursue a more fulfilling job.

If your team members feel like they aren’t progressing in their career path, it won’t be long before they start looking elsewhere. Managers should seize the opportunity now to affirm or reaffirm their commitment to each employee’s professional development. That means sitting down with individuals to talk about their goals and possible obstacles and helping them chart the right path.

Here are a few things you can do right now to get the conversation started:

  1. Conduct a career-mapping exercise. Career maps are written plans outlining where you are in your career, where you want to go, and the specific steps you could take to reach that objective.

Everyone can benefit from a career map, no matter where they’re starting from. A talented finance director might want to plot the right course for making CFO, while a junior analyst could need help to become a compliance expert or earn their CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certification. Every time someone takes a step forward in their career journey, they need to redraw their map so that it points to the next opportunity.

Each person on your team should have a realistic career map that takes them toward their goal. This map should include essential milestones, such as certifications or advancing to a new position. By helping your employees chart their paths, you’ll establish yourself as a partner in their future success.

  1. Provide appropriate professional development. Once they’ve drawn up their career maps, employees need practical support to turn those aspirations into reality. Depending on the circumstances, this could mean the company offering:
  • Certification. Tuition reimbursement programs for employees pursuing further education, certifications, or participating in other independent study programs.
  • Training. Hands-on guidance from a colleague who can impart vital skills.
  • Mentoring. Connect employees with senior professionals who can offer advice on career development.
  • Study support. Time off for exams and study, or adjustment of work responsibilities and schedule to ensure the employee is adequately supported.
  • Practical experience. Opportunities to work on the kind of assignments that relate directly to their career goals and require them to add more skills that will help them on that journey, such as stretch assignments and heat experiences. (For more on heat experiences, see “Heat Experiences: A Career Accelerator” on p. 50).
  • Networking opportunities. Chances to form connections with industry peers at in-person or virtual conferences and seminars.
  • Access to educational materials. Books, manuals, and subscriptions to industry journals.

Different people require different types of support at various points in their career. Recent graduates or early-career accounting and finance professionals, for instance, benefit enormously from training and certification. Mid-career employees might get a boost from networking opportunities and the chance to be mentored by one of the senior financial officers.

If you’re worried that upskilling your top performers will cause them to outgrow your organization, you’re missing the bigger picture. In one scenario, your upwardly mobile employees stick around, adding value to the company and helping with succession planning. In another, they gratefully take their new skills elsewhere and become brand ambassadors for your organization, making it easier for you to attract the next generation of talent. Hence, strategically, investing in professional development is a win-win.

  1. Establish a culture of growth. Organizational culture plays a crucial role in retention. If the culture is minutely focused on short-term business results, professional development can get pushed into the background. Such companies may find that they’re keeping clients happy, but their employees are stagnating.

Successful companies make growth a central plank of their culture. You can encourage this in your team by doing things like:

  • Blocking out time in each person’s schedule for professional development.
  • Celebrating as a team when someone reaches a milestone, like achieving certification.
  • Encouraging people to share their career maps and to support their colleagues in chasing their goals.
  • Actively listening to team members when they say they don’t have adequate support for their development.

It’s hard to stay focused on professional growth when dealing with tax and closing deadlines, customer demands, and other time-critical tasks. That’s why it’s always worth taking a step back and talking about why growth is so important. Remember, you aren’t just trying to improve your staff retention rates; you’re investing in a skilled, motivated team that will deliver long-term success for your organization.

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