How to manage career FOMO: fear of missing out


Workplaces are changing, but we need to address our attitudes towards traditional career development. The CIPD’s Claire McCartney looks at why we need to focus on career growth, rather than progression, to keep employees engaged.

The world of work is changing rapidly, but our approaches to career management have not kept pace with that change.

We need to start to challenge our outdated notions of traditional and hierarchical career progression and focus on career growth rather than career progression.

Organisations have become flatter in structure with many adopting matrix ways of working, and middle management layers are increasingly stripped away, so historical career paths have become blurred and less obvious.

The CIPD’s latest Employee Outlook research with Halogen Software shows that today’s careers are not working for many employees and employers.

The survey, conducted in autumn 2015, shows that around a third (32%) of employees feel it is unlikely that they will fulfil their career aspirations. Women are more likely to say this than men and over half of 18-24 year olds feel it is unlikely that they will be able to fulfil their career aspirations in their current organisations.

Feeling the fear

The wider economic context has also led to increased feelings of Career ‘FOMO’ – the fear of missing out.

This is a peculiarly modern condition which seems to have been fuelled by a number of different factors.

These include the fact that: organisations are now flatter and there are fewer traditional progression opportunities; many employees have been through a period of considerable pay restraint; and, finally, the rise in social media encourages people to compare themselves to others and often just presents the positive side of lives and careers.

Our Employee Outlook findings point to ways in which employees feel they can have more fulfilling and productive roles within organisations.

It’s not rocket science that to boost employee productivity, simple changes to the content of job roles and the control employees have in their day-to-day jobs could make a real difference.

Top of employees’ wish lists when it comes to boosting productivity is work that they find interesting and being able to use their own initiative. The things that prevent employees from being as productive as they would like are unnecessary rules and procedures and not having the resources needed to do the job.

Match skills to roles

There is also an important message coming through from the findings about the importance of matching employee skills to roles.

A quarter of employees believe that they would be more productive if they were given tasks that complement their skills. Currently a third of employees believe that they are overqualified for their current job, our research found.

This increases further for women and part-time workers, and, following on from our recent research into over-qualification in the graduate labour market, employees with a university degree are more likely to say they are overqualified than those with A-levels or other qualifications.

This has serious repercussions in the workplace when it comes to engagement, with overqualified employees being more likely to be disengaged or neutral, rather than engaged.

All of these findings point to the importance of having regular and effective development and career conversations with employees.

Regular development and career conversations can help empower employees to shape their workloads so they broaden the scope of both interesting work and overall responsibilities, to make better use of their skills and experiences.

And, when it comes to redefining our approaches to career development we really need to work in partnership with employees on their careers and aligning organisational and individual needs.

We need to think about career growth in the round rather than traditional hierarchical progression, giving employees opportunities for a breadth of diverse experiences and opportunities that maximise their employability going forward.

Growth over promotion

Recent research by CEB draws on innovative practices in several organisations that have started to redefine careers in their own settings to focus on career growth and employability, not just promotions.

Career maps

National Grid, for example, has created career maps to help employees get desired experiences of critical roles.

Connector roles are framed as categories and connected laterally to demonstrate that a traditional, linear path will not provide all experiences needed for the critical role. The path includes entry-level positions so employees are not discouraged from perceiving their ability to move into a critical role.

LinkedIn have created a career offering called Tours of Duty which typically last three years and are designed to move from a focus on title progression to employability.

The Tours of Duty demonstrate commitment to employability by:

  • at the outset, explicitly communicating the project an employee will complete, the impact they will have, and the skills they will gain;
  • upfront agreements hold the organisation accountable for demonstrable improvements in the employee’s market value; and
  • finite timelines make the employee’s progress towards original objectives clear.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, puts it like this: “Employees invest in the company’s adaptability; the company invests in employees’ employability.”

While there is a great deal of learning that can be had from other organisations and practices, ultimately, we need to apply the principles of growth-based careers in a way that works in our own contexts.

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