3 Ways Managers Can Bridge the Employee Development Gap

3-Ways-Managers-Can-Bridge-the-Employee-Development-GapUsing data collected from Quantum Workplace’s annual Employee Engagement Trends Report, an interesting relationship between survey items was discovered.

I call this relationship the “employee development gap.” Read on to understand what the employee development gap is, why it exists, and how to improve employee development.


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What is the Employee Development Gap?

The graph below shows the overall favorability of two survey items across 8 years.

employee development gap

Observation #1): With the gradual increase in favorability for the item “My immediate manager cares about my development,” employees believe that managers are taking a stronger — perhaps more genuine — interest in their development. 

Observation #2): The survey item “I see professional growth and career development opportunities for myself in this organization” is consistently a top driver of engagement. Unfortunately, it’s also consistently among the lowest in favorability.

Observation #3): When the two items are coupled together, we see that the gap between them has gradually widened from 9 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2017. This demonstrates that while managers' interest in their direct reports' development has increased, their ability to deliver on that interest has decreased. Thus, the employee development gap.


Why Does the Employee Development Gap Exist?

The gap in interest/execution on employee development could exist for one of two reasons: First, managers don't know how to improve employee development. Second, managers don't have enough resources to develop employees, whether those resources be time, money, tools, or organizational support.

Both reasons can be greatly remedied if HR chooses to educate and support managers. Below I offer 3 ways to potentially close the employee development gap.


How to Improve Employee Development


Have one-on-ones to determine what's interesting or important.

Knowledge is the first step in any journey. If managers don’t know what their team members are interested in or find important for professional development, then any efforts to help may be misguided or outright backfire (no matter how much those managers might personally care about their teams). I’ve conducted previous research suggesting that monthly career conversations are optimal for engagement. This cadence shows a continued interest in development, and it also allows managers to have up-to-date perceptions from their direct reports. Knowledge is power, and monthly one-on-one meetings give managers the power to develop their teams. Without frequent conversations, it's no wonder managers don't know how to improve employee development.

Provide more opportunities for professional growth.

After finding out what’s interesting and important to direct reports, managers should then seek out or create opportunities to maximize growth. These opportunities are almost limitless, such as job shadowing, mentoring from a more experienced team member, cross-training in another department, being given stretch assignments that put the employee into new and challenging situations, and many more. This expression of manager interest in employee development may allow team members to more readily see growth opportunities in their organizations.


Provide more resources for professional growth.

Whereas the previous suggestion revolves around events, this suggestion pertains to resources such as time, money, and equipment. These resources could certainly be used for events, such as creating a development fund to allow employees to attend conferences or webinars. But those funds could also be used to purchase books, online courses, or a service or software to help them grow. If development funds are not feasible, then consider time as an alternative. Team members could be allotted a certain amount of time — say, 2 hours a week, 10 hours a month, etc. — to spend on a specialized, tailored task that benefits the organization and affords them professional growth.



Insights like these are why we do research: so we can pass on important findings (and solutions!) to you, our reader. And lucky for you, there's more where that came from. Download our annual Employee Engagement Trends Report today.

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Published August 21, 2018 | Written By Dan Harris, Ph.D.