Worker Retention Requires Boosting Career Mobility

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

May 3 — It may sound like a paradox, but holding onto employees requires encouraging their career mobility, a talent management executive says.

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows the proportion of “nonroutine” manual and cognitive jobs rising since the start of the millennium while the numbers of routine jobs fall, so “people need to adjust and to adapt from a career perspective,” Mike Bollinger, global assistant vice president of thought leadership and advisory services at Santa Monica, Calif.-based talent management company Cornerstone OnDemand, said during a May 3 webinar.

“Many employees are worried their skills will atrophy,” he added, calling that “a realistic fear.”

Cornerstone has studied the subject, and “what was really interesting about these surveys is employees want to stay with their companies,” and HR employees want them to stay, Bollinger said.

And yet, “the rate of employees changing companies has snuck up to pre-recession levels, even though their general desire is to stay,” he said. With insignificant differences among different ages of employees, about one-third told Cornerstone they would be more likely to look outside their current employer for a new position.

The top three sources respondents to the Cornerstone survey turn to for career advice are friends, family and peers or colleagues. “We can’t do anything about the friends, but we can do something about the peers and the colleagues and the direct line manager and the boss,” Bollinger said. Five steps he said employers should take are:

  • “Make talent visibility a priority” by engaging in strategic workforce planning and asking whether the organization is making real career opportunities available and visible to the talent pool, as well as providing support structures to facilitate internal career moves.
  • Establish “formal career pathing” for employees.
  • Reward managers for developing employees and remove their vested interest in keeping top talent exactly where it is.
  • Make career mobility a priority for the organization; and
  • Make learning a priority when it comes to people development.

    Turnover Related to Work-Life Needs

    One thing driving employees to move on is work-life balance. This is a key issue in an era when many people are feeling overwhelmed, Bollinger said. Citing a recent Cornerstone survey, he said 23 percent of respondents said that work-life balance issues were “why I left my last company.”

    “We know we are going to continue to have a demographic tsunami, so we will have to accommodate this,” Bollinger said.

    The webinar was sponsored by Talent Management magazine.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at

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