Fed up at work? Feeling stuck in the personal development slow lane? You are not alone…
As recent Glassdoor / Deloitte research reveals, many working professionals (especially those born in the 80’s and 90’s) view the “ability to learn and progress” as the principal differentiator of a company’s employment brand. However, only one-third of this same group believe their current employers are using their skills well. Worst still, over 40 percent say they are likely to leave because they are not learning fast enough. Many of the people I speak to confirm this picture. They tell me a lack of personal development, growth and/or “ability to make an impact” are key reasons why they are fed up at work and considering career change. So, why are so many people feeling stuck in the personal development “slow lane”, when corporate investment in learning and development in many sectors is at an all time high?
Observation 1 – Most employers don’t offer us the type of learning and development we want (yet):
Many of us see continued personal development and lifelong learning as a core requirement of a successful career. And we don’t want to constrain our learning to just one particular discipline. As one of my clients put it to me the other day. “I love to learn – about many things – sometimes they are inter-related, sometimes not. Finding a job or career that satisfies this desire seems so hard to find.”
Unfortunately most employers still like their employees to specialise in niches as soon as possible. If a HR specialist wants to learn about organisation design methods for example, great. But if that same HR specialist wants to learn about blockchain, employers struggle to see the return on investment. However, times are changing. A 2011 report by the US based Institute for the Future identified Transdisciplinarity – the ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines, as one of the 10 most critical skills for the future. Some firms are also recognising that “life-long learners” are more resilient to change and quicker to use new skills, and are modernising their L&D offerings accordingly. Unfortunately they are still in the minority.
Observation 2 – Social and technological trends are limiting upward progression and personal development in certain industries.
Never before in human history have five generations been in the workforce at the same time. Pre-war, post-war (baby boomers), generations X, Y and Z are all now working side by side. Each has very different ideas and expectations about the world of work. A consequence of our increased longevity and technological advances is that older generations are retiring later. New technologies are also reducing the rate of job creation in certain sectors (e.g. manufacturing). Consequentially, fewer positions are becoming available into which to promote younger talent. In many cases, it is only upon promotion to these more senior positions that new learning and developmental opportunities are unlocked. In these situations, people eager to develop and progress upwards get fed up and start looking elsewhere.
Observation 3 – The way in which many employers deliver projects and services make it harder for employees to “own” impact.
Overbearing managers and command and control working practices can squish employee creativity and ownership leaving them feeling resentful and unfulfilled. In consulting and professional services firms project work is often “salami sliced” to reduce risk. The same is also true in many other industries and sectors. And by the time a particular project or change programme begins to show meaningful results, those involved in its earlier stages have long since finished their involvement. Consequentially employees are unable to take ownership of the positive changes they have helped bring about. For working professionals with a strong desire to make a visible impact, this is a significant problem.
So what can I do about my dissatisfaction now?
1. First, don’t rush to hand in your notice. Start by identifying your top 2 / 3 personal development priorities.
What do you love doing? What are you curious about learning? Maybe you want to develop skills that are only partly relevant to your current job. After several years work, I realised I felt most fulfilled when I was actively developing my clients skills. I got immense satisfaction from coaching my clients and seeing them use their new-found knowledge to advance their own careers. It made me realise that continuing to develop my coaching skills was a personal priority, even though client coaching only made up a small part of my work.
2. Once you have a clear idea of your development priorities speak to your boss.
You need to ascertain whether your current employer can support you in your personal development goals. Don’t assume he or she will be unable to help. Sometimes a well constructed business case can help you convince your boss to let you go on an unrelated training course, or lead a new project. Make it personal, and explain clearly how the development opportunity will help you perform better. And be creative – there are many different ways to acquire skills besides training courses.
My ex-boss was fantastic at giving me projects and internal opportunities to develop my priority skills. Many larger organisations also offer internal secondments and departmental transfers. Even if your boss is unable to support you developing your priority skills in work, don’t forget to explore opportunities to develop them outside of work. Taking a sabbatical from your job can often be a great way to develop an unrelated skill without losing job security.
3. Finally, if your current employer really can’t help, ask yourself whether any single job is going to give you what you seek.
There is a difference between wanting to acquire a range of different skills, and simultaneously using them! If your existing employer is unable to help you use your priority skills, stop and ask yourself whether any one job or occupation is likely to do so. Do research and speak to others who possess the skills you are seeking to develop.
If the answer to this last question is no, consider negotiating a reduction in hours from your existing employer. Then, use the time liberated to pick up a second part time job utilising the unused skill. For more information about this option check out my post on portfolio careers. If however the answer to this last question is yes, it might be you have identified a viable alternative career. Only in this last case, once you have identified an alternative role, and accepted a new job offer, should that resignation letter land on your boss’s desk…