Is Your Company Resilient to Employee Development?

I just read that “workplace resilience” is a new “buzz word.” I haven’t heard it before, but what I have repeatedly heard is the need for employees to be adaptable to changing circumstances. According to the article I read from The Age, “Workplace Resilience: It’s All a Great Big Con,” by Andrew Thackrah and Susie Byers, the ability to adapt is the definition of “workplace resilience.”

How about just the opposite—the ability to endure amid circumstances that stay obstinately the same?

The authors focus on the value (or lack thereof) of corporate “well-being” programs that seek to reduce stress to help employees become more resilient to change. But the piece got me thinking about whether the real help these programs can provide is helping employees handle the emotional distress of being kept in an unchanging development box.

As your managers are trained to create development plans for employees, have you addressed the danger of keeping employees in development boxes?

In past blogs, I’ve touched on the phenomenon I’ve experienced myself of being held in place, rather than being offered developmental opportunities. Those opportunities can come in the form of growth opportunities in a current position, or the chance to make a lateral move to another business unit for a new experience.

When an employee is performing highly in her current role, how do you make the case that managers still should give the employee a chance to expand her abilities and experiences, even if that means leaving her business unit for another?

When a new opportunity presents itself for a star employee, have you ever witnessed (or been guilty yourself) of having the hiring manager’s boss intercede to say that star employee is doing so well at her current job that we don’t want to move her someplace else? I understand why a hiring manager’s boss (who, in a small company, also may be the boss of the manager who would be losing the star employee) would take that position, but it’s still unethical. But more than unethical, it’s dumb.

Keeping employees in the same humdrum routine for years, even if they’ve been doing great in a hard-to-fill role, is not smart business. Despite the stagnant wages middle-class earners have experienced for decades, your employees aren’t indentured servants. They’re free to leave the company altogether if they’re unfulfilled—if they’re tired of coping with the same long-term situation. If they try repeatedly, and find their current job role lacks opportunities for development or advancement, and see there are no other appealing roles open to them under your roof, they are likely to go elsewhere. Then, rather than having a long, orderly transition in which the star employee can calmly help recruit and train a new star, he simply gives a hasty two-week’s notice, and you’re really in trouble.

What do you think about companies that offer mandatory job role shifts every certain number of years? Or how about at least giving employees who are at the same skill level, and the same salary range, the option of exchanging job roles? At small companies this may not be possible, but at mid-size and larger companies, a chance for a lateral change every three to five years keeps employees stimulated. Even if the employee chooses not to opt for a change, it is enlivening just knowing there is a potential for positive change without having to leave the company to find it.

With today’s technology, you could even have an internal job role “matchmaking” site in which employees at the same skill and salary level would be able to match up for a job role exchange (pending the approval of managers, of course).

Another important approach is to encourage the hiring of internal candidates to job roles. It’s disheartening to perform well at a company for years, and then get passed over for an outside candidate. Naturally, you want your hiring managers to fill the job roles with the most qualified and best people, but loyalty to those already within your company also should factor in. Instead, what sometimes happens is the reverse—the highly qualified and liked internal candidate is given less preference than the outside candidate because hiring the internal candidate would cause a disruption for another business unit. What kinds of incentives can you put in place to stop this from happening?

The irony is it isn’t employees who need “resilience” training to accept change; it’s more frequently managers and the C-suite that need the help. Those in decision-making positions need to be on board with the idea of change in the form of new experiences and opportunities for employees—even when those new opportunities result in a period of discomfort.

How do you ensure your employees don’t have to be resilient to the circumstance of stagnant job roles? How do you make it easier for, and even encourage, managers to hire internal candidates?

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