How Career Growth Can Be a Part of Employee Experience from the Beginning

BY Katie Chambers | December 19, 2023

Today’s workforce is facing a myriad of challenges, from rising education costs, a shift to remote or hybrid environments, and career paths that aren’t clearly defined. It’s becoming more and more the responsibility of leaders to help employees become their best professional selves. As a result, workers are more likely to select an employer willing to invest in their development.

Increasingly, workers say they want to grow in their jobs. How are companies designing an experience that provides a variety of career paths and development opportunities? At From Day One’s Miami conference, in a panel titled “How Career Growth Can Be a Part of Employee Experience from the Beginning,” experts discussed the most effective new educational techniques and pathways.

Rethinking Traditional Education as an Indicator of Talent

The role of higher education is changing in today's hiring environment. “Enrollment in master’s programs is down,” pointed out moderator Joe Johnson, contributor at WLRN. “It’s incredibly expensive to go to school, sometimes the salaries are not necessarily keeping up, and they’re weighing out their options,” said Amy Turner, talent operations leader and senior director at RSM US.

“What's happening is a lot of organizations are having to reevaluate what it takes to be successful in roles,” she said. Companies are taking a hard look at the value of higher education and whether those accredited employees actually bring special skills to the workplace, or if perhaps an alternative talent pool could be just as effective.

For Market Leader and EVP at Aon, Brian Bark, who recognizes that perhaps not many college students are dreaming of being insurance professionals, that talent often comes from Aon’s internship program. “I’m interested in helping these kids in college find their way after they graduate, whatever way that is,” Bark said.

“Employee growth starts in the interviews: letting them know they’re joining an organization where your entry role is important, but where you end up is more important.” Aon is also finding that four-year degrees are not necessary to many of their roles and has established an apprentice program to bring diverse talent into the workforce. “We’re taking kids who might not have ordinarily made it to college at all, giving them jobs, putting them through a two-year degree program, and then giving them full time employment after college,” Bark said.

Training and Development for a New Era

HR leaders are looking at professional development as a human-centered customer experience for employees, rather than one-off classes. “I never want to hear the word ‘training’ out of this team’s mouth ever again, we are now a CX practice, and our deliverable just happens to be learning in organizational design,” said Loren Blandon, global head of learning & growth at VMLY&R.

“We really put ourselves into the seat of being learning and experience curators, designers, and architects versus trainers,” she said. With this mindset, development becomes more about how to help people grow within the flow of work, rather than through pop-up training sessions.

In conversation moderated by Joe Johnson of WLRN, the panelists discussed how they support career growth within their workplace. 

Jackie Perez, VP, HR and corporate functions at Lennar, says that the company had experienced a turnover rate in the high 90s, until the organization established a three-day in-person orientation at company headquarters in Miami, recognizing that the moment someone joins an organization is a pivotal moment in their career journey. “We want to invest in how we immerse our associates from day one into our culture,” Perez said.

“We have large groups, 50+ associates that are all starting the same day, and they go through an experience journey. Our CEO speaks to them, and we take them to our communities, and we create that excitement that’s going to create a lasting effect.” Lennar is looking to expand this pilot program into its other new company learning centers throughout the country.

Not all successful employee engagement programs happen in-person, says Toni Banket, global head of TA, workforce development & employee branding strategy at Edwards Vacuum. Banket described her company’s online learning platform, called Coach Hub, which established long-term mentorship and short-term coaching pairings among employees. “The idea is to have someone that you trust whose opinion you value that can guide you through your journey to be successful within the work environment,” Banket said. “Continuous learning is embedded into our DNA.”

Part of continuous learning is also recognizing when more seasoned talent might need a refresher or should be shifted to another department where their abilities are more valuable. “If you have an aging skill set, we want to get everything we can out of that employee, while it's still revenue generating,” Turner said.

“It’s about having that performance management culture and those courageous conversations internally to talk about an aging skill set and the need to develop something and give them all the tools they need to be successful to embrace that.” These conversations, if handled correctly, can engender company loyalty and longevity rather than alienate older workers.

Onboarding for Organizational Success

In today’s talent marketplace, onboarding isn’t just a quick sit-down with HR to go over company policy. “Onboarding is about how you bring an individual into the organization and set them up for success in such a way to not only be a contributing member in their job, but of the overall organizational culture,” Turner said.

This engagement shouldn’t stop after an employee is no longer considered new. “Sometimes we over-index in creating this amazing experience for folks for those first weeks or the first 30 days,” Blandon says, while longer term talent is left out. “You have to continue to engage your associates at every point,” Perez agreed. It’s important to come up with creative ways to make them feel appreciated and keep them excited about the work.

One way VMLY&R accomplished this was through its “Learnfluencers” program, where expert employees deliver and facilitate workshops to others, a boon to both the employee asked to teach as well as an inspiration to those in the audience. “It almost gives them an intern-like experience as existing employees,” Blandon said.

Personal Growth for Employee Success

Ultimately, forward-thinking organizations are investing time, resources, and energy into ensuring personal career growth for their employees to drive loyalty, engagement, and organizational success. “We think about that entire employee lifecycle in terms of skill development: the skills you need to be successful in the role you’re in today, the skills you’ll need in a year, the skills you’ll need in three years, the skills you’ll need to get where you’d like to go in your career, and the skills you can take with you [if you leave],” Bark said.

“It’s all about finding people that have the right DNA to excel in these roles, and then giving them the tools and experiences and training and, and development opportunities they need to actually get there.” Turner’s motto is “hire for attitude, and train to retain.” Companies should place a higher value on a worker’s ability to learn and grow, and then provide them with the tools and network to achieve.

Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost, Honeysuckle Magazine, and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.


RELATED STORIES

Creating an Inclusive Dialogue With Workers About New Technology

AI in the workplace is no longer emergent, it has emerged. It's in our computers organizing our tasks, talking to staff and clients, writing content and generating images, and hiring the next generation of workers. At a recent From Day One event, Carrie Teegardin of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with a panel of experts on why we should be having more conversations about AI in the workplace.Marshall Bergmann, vice president of advisory services at i4CP, has done a lot of research on AI, looking at who's using it and what successful use of AI looks like. “We surveyed over 1,500 leaders across organizations and 50 different companies across 50 different countries. Just one thing I will point out is that if you’re not trying to get involved in Generative AI right now, you are already behind."Bergmann says that organizations that are using Generative AI, and experimenting with it, are ahead of the curve. He identified three types of organizations that exist on a "maturity model" with AI. The first are the AI laggards, or organizations whose leaders don’t discuss usage of AI or have any guidance on it. The next are AI inquirers. “These folks have leaders actually researching, but are largely in a wait and see mode. The messaging to employees is mostly ‘don’t use Gen AI unless we say you can use it,’” Fordyce said.Lastly, are the AI innovators who are “already seeing advantages in productivity, efficiency, error reduction.”"They have leaders who are effectively communicating their support for AI use. Leaders need to step up and discuss how Gen AI is going to be used.”The panelists discussed the topic "Creating an Inclusive Dialogue With Workers About New Technology" (photo by Dustin Chambers for From Day One)Sherlonda Martin, the global head of DEI at Takeda, touched on the power of AI to eliminate monotonous tasks human workers typically do, or used to do. “Imagine a tube coming through that we need to make sure has no particles or floating objects in it. Typically, those have been inspected by people, right? So imagine sitting in a dark room watching a vial go by for eight hours out of your day. That just won’t work,” Martin said.Teegardin brought up the recent instability in the journalism market, citing that over 500 journalists lost their jobs in January alone. “In my industry, people are always afraid we’re gonna be losing our jobs. How are you all dealing with that and addressing that fear?”“Our research shows that organizations that are communicating more about Gen AI to their employees and listening more about their fears, and their concerns, are performing better than the organizations that don't.” Bergmann said.“It’s really critical for the CEO, the top of the top ELT (executive leadership team), to come forward and talk about how AI technology is able to embed into the strategy of an organization,” said Tanie Eio, the human resources business partner and vice president at UPS.Eio says that talking about apprehensions is important for leadership and the workers under them. More important is upskilling for when AI takes over in some areas workers will be able to transition to new or altered roles with the new technology.“We started with this program called the Digital fluency training that starts from the top. And then we also allow employees to come forward say, ‘Hey, I'm interested in trying to introduce certain technology or system or platform with this company.’” The end result is they form a group that works on ideas to adapt technology to improve processes then pitch it to senior leadership, which leadership will adopt and experiment with.Martin says they’ve already introduced upskilling into the workplace and have given employees the space to pursue that effort.“At Takeda, we’re starting to give people time to upskill. We’re now giving people three hours a month to be able to upskill on a topic that’s important to [them]. It doesn’t have to be a topic related to work. But if you are now signaling that you want to now go in a different direction and upskill from a technology perspective, you now get that time," Martin said.Mark Fordyce, regional sales director for Workvivo, sees upskilling as an all company, all roles effort for organizations. “I think AI is going to affect every department, meaning it’s going to help make finance people more productive, legal people more productive, and so on. So I think the upskilling is relevant for anyone and everyone within your company no matter what they do for a living.”“Every part of your organization will be transformed in the next five years. So you might as well get started now and have some fun with it,” Bergmann said of the ongoing AI revolution.Matthew Koehler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others.

Matthew Koehler | February 22, 2024

Fostering Workplace Well-Being Amid Today’s Stressors

With 81 at-home baseball games a season, Atlanta Braves’ executive vice president DeRetta Rhodes knew her employees would need to catch a break during their shifts.Introducing the wellness room: a room that mirrors a living room, equipped with a sofa, TV, and refrigerator for anybody who simply needs time to rest. “It’s about creating space for individuals who need to be able to take care of themselves,” Rhodes said. “In the wellness room, people have the opportunity to go and take a relaxing break if they need to.”In a recent survey, 77% of employers saw an increase in mental health concerns, with 16% anticipating an increase in the future, indicating that health and wellness will continue to be a pressing issue for employers and employees in 2024.Rhodes’ approach is one of many other health and wellness strategies employers are taking to meet their employee’s needs. At From Day One’s Atlanta conference, leaders joined moderator Kelly Yamanouchi, business reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to discuss their health and wellness focal points for the new year.Changing Traditional Financial ProcessesWhether it’s due to the rising cost of living, inflation or the flexibility of remote work, more workers are working two jobs than ever before. Eight million Americans reported working more than two jobs this past January alone. For workers who take on a second job to make ends meet, timely pay matters, says Jon Lowe, chief people officer of financial services company DailyPay.“Today, the number of people who have more than one job is quite high and that creates a very high degree of stress. If you were a bartender around Christmas, you probably made a killing. But come January, when you’re working your part-time job and bartending on the side, there’s this degree of very high variance that we start to see,” Lowe said.With more than 60% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, employers need to rethink the two-week pay cycle, Lowe said.“When we look at this idea of earning wage access, we need to be disrupting this idea that two weeks is the right cadence to be paid,” Lowe said. “Today, we’re able to offer access to tools that technology allows us to do, where it recognizes the evolution of what work looks like and allows that degree of flexibility to be able to go and tap into resources that otherwise would not be available.”Building Wellness into the CultureFor Kimberly Rath, vice president of home builder company PulteGroup, wellness programs play a key role in building a healthy foundation for a company.The full panel of speakers from left to right: Steven Lester of Mayo Clinic, Josh Crafford of Synchrony, DeRetta Rhodes of the Atlanta Braves, Kimberly Rath of PulteGroup, moderator Kelly Yamanouchi of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Jon Lowe of DailyPay (photo by Dustin Chambers for From Day One)“At PulteGroup, we build homes. If you think about how wellness comes to life for you, a lot of what you do or how you take care of your well-being is done in your home,” Rath said. “At work, it’s similar. Wellness is the health of an organization and how people show up for work. If we’re strategizing how we take care of our employees and build great places where people work, we're going to get so much more from our employees.”From higher retention to increased productivity, employers can yield the benefits of happier and healthier employees. At healthcare clinic Mayo Clinic, professor of medicine and cardiologist, Steven Lester, M.D., discusses how supporting employees both in and off work can strengthen the overall performance of businesses.“As an organization, we are optimizing our business performance by incorporating well-being into the design of work,” Lester said. “We have programs supporting the financial, physical and mental well-being of our employees at work and we are also thinking about how we identify and allow people to have purpose, meaning and belonging at work.”Leading With EmpathyAn overwhelming 90% of U.S. employees believe empathetic leadership leads to higher job satisfaction, underlining the strong value employees place on leaders who lead with purpose and care.One part of empathetic leadership is active listening which helps in engaging with employees, Lester said. “We want to be actively listening to the needs of individuals and give them that safe, comfortable opportunity to engage and be heard, and know that the organization is here to support them and their well-being,” Lester said.With the emphasis on supporting employees, leaders will need to shift their priorities, Josh Crafford, vice president of technology learning and development, of financial services company Synchrony, said.“We're teaching leaders to be coaches and mentors and not care as much about the numbers,” Crafford said. “The numbers will come but the happier, safer and the more secure and connected your workers feel, the more productive they will be.”Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | February 13, 2024

Does Your Corporate Culture Promote Overwork? How to Tell–And How to Fix It

When Malissa Clark was in graduate school, she went into labor with her first child right before spring break. Instead of going to the hospital right away, she waited until her contractions were less than six minutes apart so she could finish a midterm. “I spent a couple more hours at the coffee shop, occasionally doubled over,” she said during a fireside chat at From Day One’s conference in Atlanta.Clark told moderator Nicole Smith of the Harvard Business Review that “I didn’t feel like I could stop. I didn’t feel like I could ask for support. I just felt like I had to push through.” At the time Clark realized she had a problem. However, she said she didn’t really address it until she began writing her book, Never Not Working: Why the Always-On Culture is Bad for Business – and How to Fix It and doing research on workaholism. Today, many people are feeling burned out in their careers and are trying to find a healthier work-life balance. However, workplace culture far too often gets in the way, says Clark. “Companies just aren’t listening to employees,” she said. Despite people learning during the pandemic that they could do their jobs from home and be productive, organizations are still pessimistic about remote work and insisting workers return to the office.“One of the biggest misconceptions about burnout is that the employee is just not managing stress well enough and needs to learn more coping skills and mindfulness, and then they can handle this,” Clark said. “That’s just not accurate. It’s the organizational and societal factors that are the stressors building on top of each other, and cumulative stress has a toll on our bodies.”When individual employees are overworked, it lowers not only their performance but that of others, says Clark. “You’re not as good of a teammate or boss, and so that hinders the morale of the group,” she said. Breaking the “Always On” MentalityA key contributor to the current culture of overwork is the belief that employees should be available 24/7, says Clark. Sometimes this attitude comes from the top of the organization, but lower-level employees can perpetuate it.“I think during Covid, we learned some bad habits,” she said. For example, parents who had to supervise their children during the day tended to contact their colleagues in the evenings about work, which put pressure on those colleagues to respond.Clark says some companies are encouraging those who have different work hours than other team members to go ahead and write the emails, but to use the schedule send feature so they aren’t received outside of working hours.Incentives for Using Vacation TimeAnother way employers can promote a healthy work-life balance is by encouraging workers to take paid time off. However, offering unlimited vacation days doesn’t work, says Clark, noting companies that have tried this found employees were taking even less PTO than before.Author Malissa Clark signed copies of her book Never Not Working for From Day One audience members (photo by Dustin Chambers for From Day One)Some companies are finding innovative solutions to encourage workers to use their PTO. Medtronic found a way to encourage employees to use their allotted days. In their ‘Earn Time to Win Time’ program, the more workers use their vacation time, the more opportunities they have to enter drawings to win even more days off.“It’s like a positive reinforcement for actually taking vacations,” Clark said. “I thought that was pretty ingenious.”The Four-Day Week MovementSeveral years ago, some companies began experimenting with four-day work weeks, in which employees worked 32 hours a week but were paid the same as they would have been for a 40-hour week. Revenue at those companies grew, while 70% of workers reported less burnout, according to data and employee surveys.“Almost every single employee said they wanted to continue with this,” Clark said. “One of the most astounding things is that 15% said they would not go back to a five-day week for any amount of money. It was life-changing for them.”A 32-hour work week doesn’t have to mean working eight hours a day, four days a week, says Clark. It can be five days a week from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm, which is popular with parents.“We don’t need to be working 40 hours a week,” Clark said. “We have technology, we have AI, we have all these tools that help us to be more productive. We equate hours worked with productivity, and we need to stop doing that.”Mary Pieper is a freelancer reporter based in Mason City, Iowa.

Mary Pieper | February 12, 2024