Employee career progression

How do you discuss a difficult topic like this?

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Jun 14, 2024

When almost half (44.8%) of UK employees feel “uncomfortable” discussing their own career development with managers, it’s clearly a sensitive area for both parties (Badenoch & Clark, 2013).

But discussing progression is essential for organisations who want to engage employees through development opportunities, or to retain their best talent by hiring from within.

Why progression is important

Progression is extremely important to employees: half of those aged under 35 believe promotion should come every two years (Adecco, 2013). Employees who see a clear progression path are more likely to be engaged and committed to their jobs.

That’s a good thing for your organisation, but it’s not the only reason HR should make clear progression a priority. Employees are one of the biggest investments your organisation makes: their skills and knowledge continually grow through training, on-the-job learning, and other development initiatives. You must help deserving employees to progress if you want the maximum return-on-investment (ROI) for your organisation.

Employee progression is also a key element of succession programmes, where younger employees are developed as future replacements for aging senior staff. Succession makes the most of the knowledge you already have within your company and can be an alternative to the costly and difficult task of hiring for key roles.

Make the business case for progression

While most business leaders understand the benefits of progression given above, research shows only 49% actively prioritise progression (Randstad Recruitment, 2015).

A key role for HR may therefore be to make the business case for progression. After all, without senior backing, HR cannot implement practical steps.

A structure for employee progression discussion

In order to have useful discussions with employees about progression, your organisation needs fair and consistent HR policies that support it.

These might include:

  • Advertising posts and promotion opportunities within your organisation
  • Providing employee development that readies workers for progression, such as training, coaching, mentoring, or involvement in special projects
  • A career ladder system, which defines the career progression path for employees based on their skills, experience, and length of service

These policies can provide a structure for employee progression that HR should communicate clearly, so employees know about opportunities and feel comfortable discussing them.

Define the moment for discussing employee progression

When is the right moment to discuss employee progression? HR can break down this communication barrier through your organisation’s career ladder or progression policy.

For example, your policy could state that employees will be automatically considered for promotion when they reach two years of service and a specific level of training.

Progression possibilities can then be discussed at employee appraisal or review meetings.

Without a defined ‘trigger’ or set time for discussing progression, the topic may be left hanging awkwardly in the air — leaving workers uncertain about what their future holds.

Tips for discussing employee progression

When it comes to the discussion itself, it’s important to base decisions on facts and have a frank, honest conversation. Your objectives are to promote your best-performing workers, while encouraging others to keep developing.

  • Make sure employees know about progression opportunities open to them
  • Encourage credible candidates to apply for promotions
  • Let under-qualified employees know what they need to do develop and be eligible for progression

Finally, remember that progression is an extremely important goal for many employees. Be positive, sensitive, and supportive in all discussions.

Janine Lennon

Head of Payroll Services

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