Do you have ambitious, talented employees in your organization? That’s great now, but you’d better get ready to lose them. It’s a harsh fact of the current workforce: When employees advance in their careers, only 7% do so with their current employers. Research from Gallup found that 93% of US adults left their employer to change roles. This not only drains talent and knowledge from your organization, but it also has a real financial impact. By some estimates, it can cost up to 150% of the employee’s annual salary when they leave.

A lack of growth opportunities leads to attrition

Why are so many employees choosing to leave? A study from Glassdoor found that a lack of clear progression is one of the most significant factors. In a Harvard Business Review article, data scientist and economist Andrew Chamberlain writes: “By providing clear paths for employees, moving them through job titles on a regular progression over time, employers can help boost perceived career opportunities and limit this type of harmful stagnation.” Josh Bersin also considers “growth opportunity” (including training and support on the job and self-directed, dynamic learning) to be one of the five factors of a “simply irresistible organization.”

Employees themselves are also likely to assert this: 87% of millennials (and 69% of non-millennials) rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them in a job.

This increased focus on growth and career development creates a real opportunity for L&D teams. By anticipating employees’ needs and providing relevant L&D programming, you can boost retention and improve employee engagement during their tenure. Here are five ways to approach L&D to retain top talent.

1. Start early

There’s no need to wait until someone starts at your company before talking to them about L&D opportunities. The earlier you bring this topic up, the better. A significant number of workers—including 59% of millennials—say that opportunities to learn and grow are “extremely important” to them when applying for a job. In fact, this is one of the top five factors that millennials consider when applying for new jobs. In order to get the word out to candidates, you can partner with your recruiting team to make sure they actively promote L&D programming throughout the application and interview process.

2. Understand employees’ motivation for learning

In order to build an effective L&D program, it’s helpful to understand why employees want to learn. We recently conducted a survey of L&D managers and employees and identified four key learning moments at work. The largest group, 45% of employees, said they wanted an exciting challenge, project, or new role to tackle and as a result, wanted to learn new skills. Employees in this learning moment have positive and optimistic feelings about learning. They view learning as a tool they can use regularly to grow and get better. They’re excited to learn new skills and improve.

For these employees who are learning to grow, creating the right experiences means working with your HR/People team to encourage managers to assign stretch assignments as well as enable horizontal and vertical growth opportunities within your organization. It also means investing in a learning platform that can provide meaningful learning recommendations to help individuals understand what they need to learn next.

For more on how to take motivation into account when designing your L&D program, see How to Craft L&D Programs that Motivate Employees to Learn.

3. Engage in growth conversations frequently

Just as career growth and development conversations should come up early in an employee’s tenure, they should also take place frequently. Establishing a regular cadence of these conversations creates a virtuous cycle—managers demonstrate that they have a genuine interest in their direct reports’ goals, employees receive regular feedback about their performance and progress towards these goals, and they continue to feel motivated and engaged. Brandon Rigoni, Associate Director for Selection and Development, and Bailey Nelson, writer and editor at Gallup, write, “By making career mobility conversations a regular occurrence, managers can help employees stay on track with their aspirations and accommodate their goals. This will create a progressive culture—one employees don’t need to leave for a vocational refresh or to achieve their dreams. When workers feel comfortable talking with their managers and bringing them any type of question, they are significantly more likely to be engaged in their jobs and, therefore, more likely to remain with their company.”

4. Consider cross-training

The traditional analogy of the “career ladder” no longer accurately represents the trajectory most employees follow. People may switch departments or industries or take on expanded roles depending on business needs or personal interests. One way to take this into account is to offer “cross-training.” In an HR Dive post on career development, Riia O’Donnell writes, “Horizontal cross-training expands an employee’s knowledge base to other departments and disciplines. While it may not be a direct path to promotion, it could reinvigorate their commitment to the company, or identify a new path to pursue.” Cross-training also paves the way to more internal transfers, which is another way of retaining talent within your organization.

5. Give employees a sense of ownership

If employees feel that their L&D programming is being imposed on them, they’ll face an uphill battle when it comes to staying motivated and engaged. But it shouldn’t feel this way. Udemy’s Head of L&D Shelley Osborne explains that, “Ultimately, individuals know best what they need to learn.” Shelley recommends giving employees a sense of ownership over their learning by providing access to content at all times. This way employees can access the learning they need at the moment they need it. See Forget Career Ladders: 4 Steps to Career Development.

Giving employees a sense of ownership doesn’t mean that they’re neglecting company goals. In an HR Bartender post, Sharlyn Lauby writes, “Employees owning their career doesn’t mean that their career goals and the company’s goals have to be different. It’s very possible that the employee’s career goals align with organizational goals. In fact, that should be what everyone is striving for—employees and businesses that are on the same page where career development is concerned.”

Retaining top talent is essential

Companies spend a lot of time and money to attract, interview, and hire employees, so it’s essential to look for ways to extend their tenure and boost retention. One of the most effective ways to do this is by tapping into their motivation and offering growth and development opportunities. We’ve provided a few of the guiding principles to keep in mind—the next step is thinking about how to translate these concepts to your L&D programs.

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