How the Changing Definition of Careers Impacts Your Talent Attraction and Retention Efforts

Unless companies transition from being job providers to career enablers, their talent management efforts to attract and retain high performers will fall short.


The idea of the career as we know it is changing. The workplace of 2016 will stand in stark contrast to that of 1966. For the first time in history, the modern workplace is host to five generations working side by side, all whom have different competencies, habits and expectations of their employer and their career. Looking at how the definition and understanding of careers has evolved in the past half-century provides hints for where we may be heading in the future.

Fifty years ago, work revolved around a 9-5 day, career progression was traditionally based on a daily grind to climb the corporate ladder, and workers were valued for their reliability and experience in specific skillsets. People would stay in the same organisation for most of their working lives with a goal of modest and steady progression.

These days, when it comes to careers, the norm is for people to change roles and employers multiple times over their lifetime. Technology has enabled far greater opportunities and accessibility for those searching for new jobs.

Despite the prevalence of these trends across the world, many organizations are stuck using old corporate structures that place too much emphasis on rewarding seniority and ‘time-served,’ over other important measures of success.

As global career experts, we work with organizations every day to help them recognize how the working world has evolved and support their efforts to keep pace. Our whitepaper, ‘Fulfilling Careers Instead of Filling Jobs’, stressed that to stay relevant and retain today's best people, organizations need to make the shift from being job providers to career enablers.

Here are a few examples of how the definition of career has changed, and the implications for employers:

The career ladder has become the career lattice

People traditionally took on careers thinking that steady work lead to advancement in their field and secure, lifetime employment. Career progression is no longer just about stepping up the career ladder but now about sideway moves, taking on new roles in different departments, or demonstrating talent and ability by delivering on challenging projects. This also has upended the modern resumé, taking it from a historical document of past performance and stability, to a record of demonstrated skills, attitudes and aptitudes.

We’re saying goodbye to traditional 9-5 working practices

The ability to work flexibly is a massive pull factor for employees in today’s workplace. A strong work-life balance is near the top of most workers’ agendas, and many hope to achieve this by working hours that allow flexibility to fit their lifestyles or to work when they are most productive. Companies are recognizing that effort is measured by outcomes, independent of time spent. Maintaining rigidly disciplined 9-5 days may suit some workers, but risks putting off younger or more dynamically talented employees.

Technology is transforming how we work

The rate of technological change has seemed to go into overdrive in recent decades. In addition to enabling remote working and providing access to huge amounts of information, it’s also put pressure for both employees and employers to stay up to date both with working practices and customer expectations. For many workers, this has caused pressure to embrace technology, and improve their digital skillsets. Roles which provide this training, and encourage the agility and resilience to deal with changing technologies and market conditions are appealing to strong candidates.

Managers are becoming coaches and collaboration experts

As the needs and expectations of employees have changed, so have the demands on the managers trying to get the best out of them. Previously, a manager was judged specifically by their ability to manage and retain employees, providing periodic, one-size-fits-all performance evaluations to ensure workers fit the company mold. Now, a manager is judged by their ability to collaborate and encourage growth from their teams. More than ever before, new emphasis is being placed on the importance of ongoing career conversations, rather than the traditional annual review. Coaching talented, high potential employees and providing ‘one-size-fits-one’ models encourages flexibility, agility and relevance to market – all vital to the function of modern business.

So what’s next?

The rate of change to careers has been rapid, and certainly looks set to continue as new perspectives and technologies continue to enter the workplace. Rather than seeing this as a threat, employers should view it as an opportunity.  The arrival of the younger, digitally native workforce to the jobs market presents new opportunities for employers to become career enablers, by letting go of hierarchical people management practices and prioritizing career development of individual employees in order to succeed.


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