How to develop happy employees

Retaining a motivated, skilled workforce demands work says Antoinette Oglethorpe and that includes focussing on all, including your best people

Engaging in regular conversations with employees about their career development is important because it helps them grow professionally. Sometimes, managers worry that their employees are content where they are and don’t want anything different. One comment that is often heard is: ‘My people are happy where they are. They don’t care, they don’t want to do anything different. How do I deal with that?’ You might wonder how to handle that situation. Well, here are a few things to consider.

First off, ask yourself if it’s really necessary for every employee to aspire for something different. If your employees are happy, doing a great job, and feeling motivated, it’s their choice to stay where they are. They might have other challenges outside of work that demand their attention and energy. Keeping their work simple allows them to focus on those challenges. Another scenario could be that you believe your employee is capable of much more and would enjoy taking on new opportunities. And then there’s the case of employees who are getting ready for retirement. So, how do you manage their career development?

1. Talk about career development differently

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘career’ as a person’s ‘course or progress through life (or a distinct part of life)’. In fact, the word ‘career’ derives from the Latin ‘carrus’, referring to a chariot. Instead of a ladder, we can think about our careers as a range of experiences – large and small – that come together to shape a career journey. When we help employees think about career development as a journey rather than a ladder, it shifts their thinking. To assist with this shift in thinking, stop defining career progression in terms of job titles, grades and promotions. Instead, focus on employability and enjoyability. How can they gain greater satisfaction from their working life while at the same time being valuable to the organisation?

When we help employees think about career development as a journey rather than a ladder, it shifts their thinking

2. Proactively and regularly initiate career conversations

Employees who are satisfied in their current roles may not actively seek discussions about their career progression. However, it’s crucial to have meaningful career conversations with them to support their growth and development. Schedule one-on-one meetings to discuss their long-term goals and how they align with the organisation’s objectives. This shows your commitment to their growth and helps identify future development opportunities.

3. Cultivate a growth mindset

Satisfied employees may hesitate to step out of their comfort zones or take on new challenges because of the fear of the unknown. To address this, frame career conversations around growth opportunities and learning experiences. Highlight how taking on new challenges or expanding their skills through mentoring, cross-functional projects, or additional training can lead to personal and professional development. Make it clear that growth doesn’t necessarily mean leaving their current role but expanding their skills within it.

4. Offer stretch assignments

Even if employees are happy, they might desire new challenges to further their professional growth. Identify projects or assignments that stretch their capabilities and allow them to acquire new skills or take on additional responsibilities. Providing these opportunities shows your trust in their abilities and demonstrates your commitment to their development.

5. Highlight the variety of career development opportunities

Happy employees might feel that there are limited opportunities for career advancement within their current role or department. They may struggle to envision alternative paths. Help them broaden their perspective by outlining potential growth opportunities within the organisation. Share success stories of employees who have progressed within the company, showcasing the possibilities available to them. Be transparent about the skills and experiences required for progression and offer guidance on how they can acquire them.

6. Support work-life balance

Recognise that career aspirations vary among individuals. Some employees may worry that pursuing career advancement could disrupt their work-life balance. During career conversations, explore options that accommodate their personal needs, such as flexible work arrangements, remote work options, or reduced hours. Foster a culture that values and respects boundaries, discourages overwork, and promotes time off for rest and rejuvenation. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance leads to happier and more fulfilled employees who are less prone to burnout.

7. Emphasise the importance of continuous learning

Even if employees are happy in their roles, it’s important for them to continue learning and developing. If they become complacent and stagnant, they may miss out on new opportunities and fail to reach their full potential. Emphasise the value of ongoing development and expanding their skill set. Help them see how taking advantage of development opportunities can benefit them, such as attending conferences, working on interesting projects, or exploring new areas of work that align with their interests.

8. Help employees prepare for retirement

When it comes to employees heading into retirement, it’s essential to explore what’s important to them. Do they feel they’ve achieved everything they wanted to? Are they leaving the organisation in a good place for others to follow? Can they prepare their role for a smooth transition? Help them use their remaining time at work to prepare for retirement and leave a positive legacy.

9. Acknowledge and celebrate achievements

Don’t forget to recognise and celebrate the accomplishments of employees who are content in their roles. Regularly acknowledge their contributions, both publicly and privately, to foster a positive and motivating work environment. Celebrating achievements boosts morale and reinforces the idea that growth and development can happen even within a role where they are currently satisfied.

Remember, even happy employees benefit from career conversations and development opportunities. By fostering an environment of growth and engagement, you can further enhance their job satisfaction and strengthen their commitment to the organisation.

Antoinette Oglethorpe is author of Confident Career Conversations: Empower Your Employees for Career Growth and Retention

Antoinette Oglethorpe

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