On the surface, it may seem counterintuitive for an organisation to offer its employees access to career counselling. However, skilled career counselling has been known to improve employee productivity and engagement, increase retention, boost morale and raise performance quality. 1 Access to first-rate career counselling is recognised in the marketplace as an in-demand employee benefit, and it distinguishes an organisation that supports its employees and for whom it is desirable to work.
The range of modern-day counselling roles offered by employee assistance professionals (EAPs) has grown to include employee career support and development, helping employees to navigate change, weather complicated career situations and to grow in the organisation – it has also made headway into the realm of executive coaching. In this way, modern EA professionals are strategic partners who are able to work collaboratively with human resources and management within an organisation. Furthermore, the visibility created for EAPs in strategic workforce planning can be very beneficial in that this contributes to employees’ positive perceptions of EAPs as the “go to” resource for advice about workplace and personal issues.2
Through in-house career counselling, employees are given the opportunity to assess their interests, abilities, and values, to and determine their preferences with the aim of developing their own career action programmes – in alignment with company human capital requirements. This helps to improve self-awareness, clarify personal and career goals and encourage self-empowerment.
Career counselling as a leadership tool
At any stage of their career an employee may experience challenges at work which may seriously affect performance and their success at a company. For a senior-level professional, the impact may have serious ramifications for the organisation if their work has a direct impact on overall business strategy and direction. Career counseling is a strategic resource which employees, right up to the top echelon, can benefit from; and it is a tool that managers can rely on when issues arise within the company – covering a range of work experiences such as career transition, moving from one position to another, acclimatising to the changing nature of work within a single job or the experience of working on multiple projects.
For employers, career counselling goes beyond just knowing that their employees are supported at critical moments – it can also help employees achieve excellent results. It enables managers to focus on helping their subordinates to maximize their day-to-day performance, while career counselling assists them in tackling more abstract career-related questions and issues. Career counsellors are trained, objective professionals with whom employees are able to share their most pressing career issues, and who help them map out the best long-term solutions.
How employees benefit from career counselling
Inside an organisation, career planning is often about using discussions and advice to inform a personal plan or to gain a sense of direction. When career guidance is available to them, employees will be more likely to map their long-term progression within the company, rather than looking elsewhere. Employees being enabled to assess their interests, abilities, values and preferences and to develop their own career action programme serves to:
- Clarify personal and career goals and encourages self-empowerment in career planning, in alignment with the company’s own strategy and needs.
- It helps to identify if employees need extra help as a result of personal circumstances or need to brush up on skills to achieve their career goals.
- It provides a comprehensive and integrated analysis and report of an individual’s personal and career strengths and preferences, as well as possible barriers to career goal attainment.
The benefits of having career counsellors in-house typically include:
- An increase in employee productivity and supervisory effectiveness
- The retention of valued employees
- Less time spent managing poor performers
- An increased quality in employee performance
- Improved employee morale3
The first steps in creating an effective employee development plan is to find out about the employee’s career goals and match them with the organisation’s needs with a focus in three areas: 4
Hindsight: First examine the employee’s work background and history, and what they have accomplished in their careers so far. This provides baseline information the counsellor needs in order to have a development conversation with an employee.
Foresight: Then look forward and outward at the current needs of the organisation now as well as in the near future, asking questions such as: Where does the organisation stand at present? What is the organisation’s five year plan? Where is our industry headed?
Insight: Finally, explore where the first two conversations intersect. Where do the employee’s skills and interests intersect with where the company and industry are going? Where does it make sense to focus development efforts to ensure the two are aligned?
How employers benefit from employee career guidance
From the employer perspective, career development holds out the possibility of growing critical skills within the organisation, which are often not available on the external labour market; of improved deployment of people in jobs where their talents are well used; of an improved ability to attract good people and possibly retain them; and of improved flexibility in the workforce and therefore the ability to respond to business change.
Career development for millennial employees
According to Gallup, eighty seven percent of millennial employees say professional development, or career growth opportunities, are very important to them in a job. “Millennials fundamentally think about jobs as opportunities to learn and grow. Their strong desire for development is, perhaps, the greatest differentiator between them and all other generations in the workplace. In millennials’ eyes, development shouldn’t only come through occupancy in a job. Millennials want managers to find ways to invest in their future, hone their skills and coach them to become the best workers they can be – starting today.”5