In-work progression, also referred to as career progression, is the process of advancing in one's career within an organisation, leading to increased responsibility and pay.
In this article, we’re going to talk about in-work progression and why it’s so important that you have progression plans in place, both for your staff and the company as a whole.
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Millennials have been described as the 'job-hopping generation’, typically moving roles every couple of years, in stark contrast to their Baby Boomer parents who sought out and cherished their ‘jobs for life’.
Some accuse their younger colleagues of being uncommitted and disengaged, a pretty pessimistic and sweeping judgement of an entire generation. And it seems like Gen Z is already following a similar trend, suggesting the work environment, not the workers, is the cause.
But what’s underlying this weakened attachment between employee and employer, and causing people to outgrow jobs, companies and industries so much quicker these days?
Of course, salary will always play a role, and if an employee cannot move up the pay scale in their existing organisation, they will have no choice but to look elsewhere. But that's a relatively simple fix in organisations and industries that care about long-term retention.
Beyond salary, often it’s a desire to broaden their range of experience, widen their skillset and take on new challenges that gives people itchy feet and drives them to refresh their CV.
While this might be music to the ears of recruiters, it’s not great for companies that want to keep hold of the staff that they’ve recruited, trained and built a relationship with.
How does in-work progression relate to workplace wellness? Happiness at work is inherent to workplace wellness. You’ve got to want to be there. A happy and long-term work relationship is similar to a romantic one, in that it relies on one key thing: a shared vision of your future together.
If your employees don’t see a future with you, you’re on borrowed time. A more attractive offer could easily tempt them away, and they will coast along until that day arrives. So you become suspicious and overbearing, scrutinising what they’re doing, how productive they are, looking for clues that their heart’s not in it.
They’ll undoubtedly notice and resent this.
But you wouldn’t be wrong to have doubts – if they’ve got one eye on the door, how can you expect them to contribute in any meaningful way to realising the company’s long-term plans and goals? How motivated are they going to be to achieve their year-end targets if they’re expecting to be gone by October?
This ‘grass is greener’ mindset inevitably breeds a sense of futility that sucks the joy and passion from a workplace.
A sense of purpose and fulfilment are key to wellness at work – and if it’s not the work of the organisation itself that is driving people, it can at least be the work they are doing on themselves or in their career.
They need to be invested in something that requires them to look forward and work toward something that will give them, if not joy (sadly, we do not all work in chocolate factories), then at least satisfaction and a sense of achievement. Crucially, those end goals must lie within your organisation, or be supported in some way by it.
Raising the issue of in-work progression and communicating about it openly signals to your employees that you are thinking about the future and that you see them in it.
To return to the romantic relationship analogy, you are checking in with your partner to reassure them that you want the same things and are still committed to ideas that you’ve discussed and imagined together.
The lack of a clear and openly communicated plan for the future doesn’t just hold employees back, it holds the whole company back because it puts a cap on people’s expectations, and thus their contributions.
No one is getting the best out of this situation. So, how do you stop your valued employees from developing a wandering eye? A successful relationship requires commitment from both parties.
You need not just to tell them, but show them that there is a path forwards and upwards, within your organisation that will give them the development and growth that they are seeking. The best way to do this is through a progression plan.
It’s important to provide a progression plan for your employees that clearly communicates the opportunities open to them within the organisation. Your employees need to be able to see what the next year, five years, or even ten years could look like for them if they commit long-term to your organisation. It needs to get them excited about that.
A progression plan helps you to paint a picture of a job with a bright future within your organisation.
It will be intrinsically linked to developing skills, both technical skills relevant to the job and soft skills such as communication, adaptability and problem-solving.
As an employer, you can facilitate this skill development in a progression plan that includes training programmes, workshops and mentorship opportunities. This should be implemented within the wider context of a supportive environment where employees feel encouraged to take on new challenges and learn from failures in a culture of continuous improvement.
Of course, if this all seems so great and so obvious, why is it not happening in all organisations everywhere? As ever, cost is a big barrier. The ‘jobs for life’ of yesteryear often came with generous pension schemes, security and perks that fostered loyalty among the workforce.
Many of these perks have failed to survive various recessions, cuts and cost-saving drives, particularly in the public sector. Wages have also failed to keep pace with inflation, let alone with the soaring costs of renting or buying a home.
All this means that young adults seeking long-term financial security have to be more ruthless, keeping their employer at arm’s length so that they’re able to up and leave when a better offer comes along because they can’t afford not to take it.
Without those sweeteners that kept people in one place for their whole career, they don’t feel they owe their employer anything more than the time that they pay for.
What’s more, if they want to retire at a particular age, they’ve only got so many years to build up the pension pot they need. If they’re not getting the required level of contributions from their current job, they’ll be forced to find one where they do.
The loyalty that facilitated these long-term employment relationships was born from the sense of security offered by the job/organisation. Money is, for better or worse, a big part of that – more so now than ever.
Pay is a significant factor influencing employee satisfaction and workplace wellbeing, so fair and competitive compensation is essential in the context of in-work progression. Employees who perceive that their efforts and contributions are recognised and rewarded are more likely to be engaged and motivated to progress in their careers.
Therefore, progression plans need to be clearly linked to a pay scale with increasing remuneration that reflects the development work that is being done and the skills being gained.
Transparent and merit-based compensation structures contribute to a positive workplace culture, and employers should regularly review and adjust these to ensure alignment with industry standards. Addressing any disparities in pay based on gender and race is crucial for fostering an inclusive workplace and promoting in-work progression for all.
This is often referred to as the ‘glass ceiling’ effect, where some individuals, particularly women and minorities, find it difficult to raise beyond a certain level in the organisational hierarchy, or in a wider industry hierarchy.
Another barrier is resistance to change on the part of both employers and employees. Some may be hesitant to embrace new technologies or methodologies or be reluctant to invest in training programmes.
A final barrier to mention is lack of educational resources and opportunities for skill development. If people find it challenging to upgrade their skills, perhaps due to financial constraints, the uptake will be low.
While government initiatives can help to build bridges, it is employers who play the most pivotal role in shaping the in-work progression landscape.
Organisations must create a culture of continuous learning and development to break down the barriers that exist. This involves investing in training programmes for employees to enhance their skills, while ensuring everyone has equal opportunities for in-work progression and rewarding people based on merit and effort.
Offering educational leave or sabbaticals for people to undertake training or obtain qualifications would also give employees the time and headspace to focus on development rather than simply adding to their workload.
To this end, employers could explore partnerships with educational institutions, government programs or industry associations to provide targeted, perhaps even subsidised/affordable training programmes.
The need for in-work progression isn’t a case of people ‘wanting more and more’ from employers. The employees who want these opportunities are exactly the kinds of employees you need to attract. Once you've found them, do everything you can to keep them.
These people are dedicated to lifelong learning and self-improvement; they are self-motivated, curious and driven, and if you support them in this, providing opportunities for them to gain the experiences and skills they seek, you will both reap the rewards.