As an employer, I don’t need to tell you that the trend towards operating lean and mean continues for many reasons: rising costs of goods and services, payroll costs (including health care) and technology.


In fact, since the year 2000, advances in technology have eliminated more positions than new people entering the workforce. With fewer available jobs, how do you attract and retain high caliber workers? After all, career advancement, i.e. progressing within organizations, is still a key driver of employee engagement as reported in a global engagement study.

Engaged Employee Behavior

To put a fine point on it: you want engaged employees. What do engaged employees look like? It is Chris choosing to stay after hours on Friday afternoon to deliver a polished presentation to the client. It is Anna owning that call from a disgruntled client from start to finish, so no need to escalate it. Engaged employees put forth the discretionary effort to get the job done because, in the vernacular, they are psyched to come to work for you.

It is important to get a focus on what engages your workers. If you have started to hire a number of millennials, you know that the average time they expect to stay with an employer is two years, according to a 2013 employee survey. From the Baby Boomer (and even Gen X-er) viewpoint, that smells of job-hopping! You have to act quickly and effectively to keep these talented young workers engaged.

What Drives Engagement?

With limited dollars and time, on what should you focus to keep and build your talent? Across all generations of workers and among all employee survey results that I have seen, career development and training emerges as a key driver of engagement. Building talent within the organization as a strategy fits nicely with studies done by Ed Dieci as described in leadership guru Daniel Pink’s Drive, showing that competence is one of three top employee motivators.

I know what you are thinking: how do I address career development and training without a mega training budget or even a tuition reimbursement policy? Well, there are ways to develop people on the job that may incur indirect costs but do not require a large cash outlay. I will propose three ways here and would love to hear from you (see below).

  1. Have career development conversations with your workers, asking the question, “What is of interest to you that you could help with here?” can spark an idea that could benefit the worker and you. In fact, you are literally engaging your worker in conversation and in the business. This is an underrated conversation but what you are doing is aligning your worker’s interests/passions and your mission. A win-win for both.
  2. .Encourage employees to take work-related “YouTube breaks.” Of course you don’t want unlimited web surfing to take away from project deadlines, yet scheduling this activity acknowledges reality and gets people focused on using the web to learn. Don’t stop there; at your team meetings, have individuals share what they learned from a video or other web piece, and how it applies to your work.
  3. Coordinate or make available mentoring resources. One of the best ways to learn on the job is mentoring. It doesn’t have to be a one-on-one, long-term arrangement in which an expert dispenses knowledge to a newbie. Mentoring can happen with different individuals over short periods, and can be focused on one skill or piece of knowledge. Oh, and did I say that the learning is mutual? Yes, mentors get back what they give.