Why “Big Picture” Career Discussions are Important

Career planning is very important, yet often overlooked by managers. Like it or not, employees are actively considering all of their career options, within and beyond your company and your team. The absence of career discussions that take into account where the employee sees themselves in the next year or the next five years contribute to decreased employee engagement and increased attrition.

Generally, employees consider these career questions :

  •   Am I in the right organization? For now and for the future?
  •   What new skills or experiences do I need for the next step?
  •   How does my manager see my future?
  •   How committed is my manager to helping me?

Before the discussion think about the following:

  •   What do I see as this person’s ultimate potential?
  •   What do I think the employee needs to do to get there?
  •   What do I feel are the employee’s key strengths?
  •   What do I know about this employee’s immediate key developmental needs?
  •   What do I see as the employee’s next assignment?

How to help employees prepare for career discussions

Prior to having career discussions with employees, suggest they prepare for the discussion by thinking about their aspirations, goals and successes. This may help to alleviate the discomfort. Ask them to consider additional skills they want to develop, strengths and areas of improvement, and projects or activities that will provide an opportunity to stretch their skills and grow professionally.

How do I begin a career discussion?

For a productive and positive career discussion, managers should begin with open-ended questions such as: “How does your current work fit with your career goals?” or “Where do you see yourself in your career a year from now or longer?”  Set aside time each year to have these discussions with everyone you manage. It is important for the conversation to be interactive, allowing employees to interject their thoughts throughout the discussion.

What if the person seems uncomfortable with my questions?

If you do sense some discomfort, you might acknowledge how challenging career discussions can be. Perhaps the individual is content in their role or isn’t ready to have a big picture career discussion. To get a sense of what motivates and engages them at work, you may want to ask:

“What problems excite you?” or “What strengths can you build on?” or

“What types of work do you want to do less of or more of?”

What about an employee in the later stage of their career?

Keep in mind that just because someone is older doesn’t mean their next step is retirement. Nineteen percent of those 65 and older said they wanted to change jobs rather than retiring. Although you may want to know about an employee’s retirement plans, it is best to wait until he or she brings it up. No one should feel they are being pushed out.1

Many people want more flexibility as they near retirement so be prepared with those options. For example, work out a part-time arrangement with someone who has great institutional knowledge. Or consider a phased exit over a defined period, or a completely different role or job he or she would like to try. Whatever the arrangement, it needs to be the right choice for the individual and the organization. It is important to know the culture of your organization before offering options to an employee.

What if I am still nervous about having a career discussion?

The EAP is always standing by to help as a sounding board or to help with rehearsing a difficult conversation.

1 “More Senior Citizens Working Past Retirement Age,” Insurance Journal, https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2017/07/11/457194.htm


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