The Future of Professional Development: Part 1
By Vivian Guo | May 13, 2022
What we really mean by career goals and how that's changing
Professional development and career advancement are two of the key reasons why employees stay at their jobs and, if it isn’t offered, to leave. But what does professional development really mean? We had a hypothesis that it’s changed in the last few years—likely driven by the shift to remote work and changes to the social contract between employers and employees as life outside of the office converges with the work within office walls. To prove ourselves right, or wrong, we partnered with BetterUp1, the “People Experience Platform” for professional coaching, immersive learning, and insights, to investigate if and how the way employees talk about work and career goals is changing and how that translates to job performance.
Last year, we published an introductory chapter to our Future of Work study, which details how trends across employee retention, hiring, and compensation have unfolded in the tech industry over the last two years, and how companies and people leaders are adapting to this change. In that study, we found that 97% of respondents from our survey of tech employees2 cited career advancement and professional development as at least somewhat relevant to their decision to stay at their current company, with 53% reporting it as the primary reason—more than any other category cited. It was also the top reason employees reported as relevant to their decision to leave a company.
Based on thousands of employee conversations with BetterUp coaches, we found that rather than up-or-out advancement, employees are increasingly citing goals like work-life balance or passion in lieu of career advancement or influence when talking about career goals.
These findings are also reflected in the top 3 professional development goals of tech employees from our March 2022 survey4. Rather than taking on increasing leadership responsibilities, the most requested professional development goals were centered around skill/knowledge building.
These coaching goals also vary dramatically based on level and gender. Perhaps not surprisingly, individual contributors (typically made up of younger employees) tend to have a higher percentage of goals related to purpose and balance compared to managers who are more focused on mentorship, being an inspiration, and empowering others.
On the other hand, women in the software field are more focused on conflict management and less interested in mentorship compared to men and women in non-software jobs.
Based on sentiment analysis of the BetterUp coaching conversations, we were also surprised to find that remote employees had a higher degree of negative sentiment (stress, confusion, worry) and a lower degree of positive sentiment (satisfaction, optimism) when talking about work and career goals than their in-office peers.
This is striking given the preference for a remote-first or hybrid setup stated by most tech employees surveyed back in Q4 ’218 and the fact that tech companies who participated in our 2022 survey expect 50% of their workforce to be remote9.
This data tells us that professional development in the new future of work will not only be critical but also incredibly challenging to design successfully. Employees know they need to be adaptable and want to keep getting the skills and experiences that will keep them relevant and allow choice, but they are increasingly opting out of narrow achievement-oriented career goals like a specific title if it means sacrificing other aspects such as work-life balance, passion, etc. At the same time, career goals and sentiment toward work will vary significantly based on age, gender, role, industry, and work arrangement. In this sense, career development must remain deeply individualized rather than one-size-fits-all to be effective, suggesting that we should perhaps put some onus back on employees to craft what development ideally looks like from their perspective.
What’s clear is that both employees and leaders will need support in navigating the nuanced and highly personalized definitions of professional development, growth, and balance. HR teams must be creative to strike the balance between employees who both desire career advancement and work-life balance. Organizations will also need to think much more expansively about professional growth to develop processes and tools that ensure employees can not only upskill themselves but have access to the experiences and opportunities that keep them relevant, valuable, and adaptable—but also passionate, engaged and happy.
In our next post, we’ll dive into one of the most critical processes that will require rethinking as it relates to professional development: performance management. From there, in the final chapter of our Future of Work series, we’ll explore how approaches to professional development and the weighing of preferences should be aligned with company culture to ensure the best outcomes for employees and the organization.
Notes and Disclosures
1 Please refer to the Disclosures at the end of this article for more information on BetterUp.
2 ICONIQ Growth Tech Employee Survey from October – November 2021 which includes responses from ~70 tech employees; For more details on data source and insights, reference our Future of Work Series Introduction
3 Themes, sentiments, and anonymized conversations from ~100,000 BetterUp onboarding sessions and ~128,000 coaching touchpoints
4 Data from a survey of ~150 tech employees conducted in March 2022. For more details on data source and respondent make-up, reference our Future of Work Series: Professional Development report
5 Themes, sentiments, and anonymized conversations from ~100,000 BetterUp onboarding sessions and ~128,000 coaching touchpoints
6 Analysis uses implied gender based on pronouns used by coaches
7 Themes, sentiments, and anonymized conversations from ~100,000 BetterUp onboarding sessions and ~128,000 coaching touchpoints
8 ICONIQ Growth Tech Employee Survey from October – November 2021 which includes responses from ~70 tech employees; For more details on data source and insights, reference our Future of Work Series Introduction
9 Data from a survey of ~150 tech employees conducted in March 2022. For more details on data source and respondent make-up, reference our Future of Work Series: Professional Development report
10 Themes, sentiments, and anonymized conversations from ~100,000 BetterUp onboarding sessions and ~128,000 coaching touchpoints