“Tell me about your career goals.” How often have you said this to a person you’re managing or mentoring, only to get a blank stare in return? Perhaps the person confides that they don’t know what their goals should be, or even whether there are opportunities to advance at your company. How do you begin to provide support?
Career dissatisfaction is a growing challenge in today’s world, which is why we’ve decided to do things differently at Weight Watchers, with the help of LifeLabs Learning. The results of CEB’s 2015 employee survey capture the problem well: 70% of employees surveyed (across many industries) reported being dissatisfied with career opportunities at their company — a disturbing figure given that it is one of the biggest drivers of engagement and retention. At the same time, 75% of organizations said they expected to face a shortage of necessary skills and knowledge among their employees. So, on the one hand, employees feel they can’t advance fast enough, and on the other, companies believe employees are growing too slowly. How can such a blatant and dangerous contradiction exist? And what can we do about it?
Before offering solutions, we’d like to propose a radical diagnosis: The problem lives not in a lack of career opportunities, but rather in the very concept of a career. We are suffering from the career myth — a delusional belief in the outdated idea of linear career progression.
Consider the etymology of the word “career.” It comes from the 16th-century word for “road.” When we envision a career, we imagine a direct path with a final destination. And not long ago, this concept was useful. Career growth meant attaining incremental increases in prestige and compensation. You could look at the past and use it as a gauge of the future — taking the steps that others took to get to where they got. This vision of career growth no longer matches reality. We no longer need to be good at predicting the future; we now have to succeed when the future is unpredictable. We have to abandon the career myth and create a new framework for personal and professional growth.
Let’s return to the employee who needs direction and feels stuck and confused about their career. If you can’t point them toward a reassuring career ladder, what can you do to support their growth and increase their impact on the company? Here are some of the steps we’re taking at Weight Watchers to help employees move beyond the career myth: