Vicki Tambellini is the CEO and founder of Tambellini Group, an independent higher education research and advisory firm.
Long before the pandemic upended workplace dynamics, the global technology industry faced a well-known and formidable skills shortage. As the CEO of a technology research and analysis firm, I have had to contend with the mismatch between the demand and supply for available talent since I founded my company 20 years ago. The ongoing “great reshuffling” has only magnified the challenges many of us face: Valued employees continue to leave their current jobs in droves for new career opportunities. Smaller organizations like mine—with fewer than 50 employees—face an added hurdle because we compete against multibillion-dollar technology companies with deeper resources to attract the best and brightest in our field.
I don’t have a silver bullet for finding the best employees or keeping them happy, and our organization is not immune to attrition. Despite how much I may regret losing valued team members, I’ve seen the benefits firsthand of wholeheartedly committing to their career advancement through mentorship, even when it entails helping them find and secure roles at other organizations.
My colleagues in the C-suite are often surprised to hear I would make this offer—it’s certainly not one of the strategies commonly endorsed by human resource experts for increasing retention. Leaders are widely encouraged to provide mentoring, but their advice is often too narrowly focused on internal opportunities for growth. We often incorrectly assume that if we offer to help our employees pursue external roles, we encourage them to leave.
On the contrary, making this broad commitment has reaped unexpected benefits for my company by providing me with critical insights on the actions you can take to improve team members’ engagement and satisfaction. Here are some tips for approaching these conversations with your team and ensuring they lead to productive outcomes.
Be specific. Instead of making vague statements, like “my door is always open,” suggest a specific action item: Encourage employees to reach out to you directly and schedule a 30-minute meeting to discuss their future aspirations.
Don’t wait. Performance evaluations are a natural time to provide feedback, but very few people feel comfortable sharing their dissatisfaction during these assessments, which are frequently tied to promotions and raises. Instead of waiting for formal reviews, be proactive about changing existing roles and developing new ones. Switching jobs within the same company can often provide team members with the fulfillment and opportunities for career growth they were seeking elsewhere.
Encourage executive team mentorship. Although you can urge every employee to seek you out for career help, many are more comfortable asking for guidance from direct supervisors rather than the CEO. Encourage your executive team to take the same initiative to ensure everyone takes advantage of your collective experience and professional networks.
Let go of ego. When a team member shares their desire to move on, it’s crucial to remember that their departure isn’t always a referendum on your workplace culture, compensation and benefits. Their personal lives and demands outside the office are beyond anyone’s control and often the most significant drivers of their motivations.
The Benefits Of ‘Employees Emeriti’
One of the biggest reasons leaders can be hesitant to help employees explore broader horizons is they fear losing valued team members. The concern is valid, especially in technology companies, where voluntary employee attrition rates increased by 50% in the second half of 2021 compared to the previous year.
But the reality is that no one stays at one company for their entire career. Throughout their working lives, team members inevitably will wonder if they would be happier elsewhere and pursue other opportunities. Consider the alternative: Do you want employees who are content with the status quo and want to be in the same job forever?
Instead of fixating on what you may lose by offering to help them make the switch, focus on what you stand to gain:
Boosted morale: You can build trust by conveying that you are sincerely committed to team members’ advancement, appreciate their contributions and recognize their broader value in the marketplace. After making this offer in a companywide email, many told me it made them proud to work for my company.
New opportunities: When employees feel comfortable communicating their reasons for considering outside roles, they create an unexpected opportunity for leaders to develop new internal positions better aligned with their career goals, especially in fast-growing companies. Even if doing so doesn’t compel them to stay, take advantage of the chance to make the extra effort to show your appreciation for their time and contributions.
Extended referrals: Former team members are still valuable to your company after they have accepted another job. Those who leave on a good note are more likely to recommend colleagues for open roles, refer potential clients and write positive reviews that boost your workplace’s reputation in a competitive job market.
The bottom line is that you can’t control if or when employees leave your organization. Yet you can positively influence their lasting impression of their time spent working with you, which endures far longer than anyone’s tenure in service to our missions and clients.