Promotion vs. Development: How Do Age and Tenure Affect Employee Desires?


Most employees aren't looking for a static situation. They don't want to simply linger in the same position for perpetuity - they desire a higher salary, a more prestigious title, or a growth in skillset that sets them up for better opportunities down the road.

As an organization, how can you recognize and capitalize on these desires? What are employees really aiming for? The better you answer these questions, the higher your chances of attracting the top talent on the market and keeping your current employees.

Unfortunately, there is no all-in-one solution. Our research found that employee desires vary greatly due to age and tenure within the organization.The youngest and least-tenured employees are the most likely to desire opportunities for promotion and advancement, while the most-tenured and oldest employees are more likely to desire opportunities for development and training in the workplace.


Get your fix of workplace data and trends. Our Employee Engagement Trends  Report has everything you need to know.    

Nearly 70 percent of employees ages 25 and younger and 60 percent of those with less than one year of experience at their current organization chose opportunities for promotion and advancement as more important than opportunities for development and training. Yet, as age and tenure increased, the importance of promotions and advancement took a back seat to development and training. More than half of the employees ages 46 and older and 55 percent of those who'd been working at their current organization for 15 years or more would rather have the opportunity for continued learning in the workplace, as opposed to promotions.






A few potential explanations stick out to me:

  1. Older employees, due to their years in the workforce (not necessarily at the same organization), might already be atop the organizational ladder and have little room for upward mobility. Instead of focusing on climbing to the next level, they might be more focused on increasing their depth of knowledge in their particular field of expertise. If you have nowhere else to go in your organization, you might as well become the best possible employee in your field.
  2. Another possible explanation, and perhaps the more intriguing one, is that younger generations place emphasis in the "wrong" areas. As a member of the millennial generation myself, I understand why a new title or a promotion is valued---you get new business cards, a new email signature, get to post a status update on LinkedIn for all the world to see, you become the center of attention at the family dinner table, your prospects in the dating world get a whole lot better, etc. But is this really what employees should be shooting for? Encourage them to actually develop their skills rather than shoot for promotions - by growing personally and professionally, they will become better at their jobs while simultaneously setting themselves up for promotions and/or new opportunities down the road.


Challenge your organizations to forgo a simple title change that relies on years of service instead of improvements in knowledge. If the qualifications for a promotion are based on arbitrary dates and milestones, then it might be time to reconsider your process. If you are granted a new promotion and you feel your skillset is a little underwhelming for the role, ensure that you and your manager have a plan in place to get you caught up with the rest of the field.

Don’t let your desire for advancement overshadow your growth and development plan. The only thing worse than not knowing the answer to a question is not knowing the answer when you are the supposed expert in that domain.

Explore more of our research in our free ebook, 2018 Employee Engagement Trends, to unearth more helpful insights into your employees and how to get the most out of them.


New Research: Employee Engagement Trends Report    


Published March 18, 2018 | Written By Aaron Brown