3 Employee Development Strategies to Improve Retention and Engagement

– A MentorcliQ Article –

3 Employee Development Strategies to Improve Retention and Engagement

Traditionally, the collection of benefits employees enjoyed included a salary, healthcare coverage, and a retirement plan. Times have changed, however, especially following the global pandemic. Among Gen Z workers, 76% believe learning is essential for their careers, even as 94% of workers are more inclined to stay with an employer that invests in learning. Employers can no longer rely on a pre-pandemic approach to retaining employees. Instead, focusing on talent development will not only improve retention rates but also create more advancement opportunities for workers from historically underrepresented groups.

What Is Employee Development?

Before diving into employee development, you may need to understand what does (and does not!) fit within the definition. 

Employee development is any strategy that develops the skills, experience, knowledge, and networks of workers. Employee development could be something as simple as new hire onboarding programs, or something more complicated, such as required technical training courses. From the simple to the complex, the more you develop your employees, the more valuable they are to you. 


Replacing Employees Is Expensive

Employee turnover is expensive. Development is one strategy among many to help reduce turnover rates. And let’s face it, reducing turnover is an exceptional priority in today’s tight labor market. The quits rate, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has consistently broken records in 2021. The quit rate reached an all-time high of 2.9% this year, representing over 4.3 million people leaving their jobs voluntarily and far dwarfing layoffs. 

To put a money figure on that, it can cost as much as 2x an employee’s salary to find, hire, and onboard a replacement. Conservatively, the cost is half an employee’s salary. Even if we focus on the lower cost, US businesses are staring down a collective replacement cost of around $220 billion.

Turnover costs will vary by company. Interested to know more? Access our simple-to-use turnover cost calculator to get a better idea of what turnover is costing your organization.


Will Employees Quit After Getting Paid Training?

Some employers hesitate to offer many development opportunities because they’re afraid that employees will quit after they’re trained. There are certainly plenty of blog posts on this issue, including an interesting read at HRNasty


A Gartner study found that companies lacking employee development tend to have higher employee attrition rates, as reported by 40% of departing employees. Offering higher salaries is not the end-all, be-all to reducing turnover. They want development opportunities that make them not only more valuable to your organization but more worthy of promotions and that make them feel more confident in their abilities. 



career development

Training your employees may make them more valuable to your competitors, but it also makes them more likely to stick around. As such, employee development is an essential retention strategy. Failing to train employees because of fear that they’ll leave is a self-fulfilling prophecy. 


3 Focus Areas for Employee Development Plans

Employee development requires a multi-faceted approach. It’s about more than just teaching employees the technical knowledge required for their roles (although that’s very important in and of itself!). Particularly among younger talent, workers want the opportunity to grow in a variety of ways that will ultimately improve their career prospects. 

Three excellent areas to focus on for employee development include:


Below, we’ll elaborate a bit more on what each of these means and how each can work to improve retention. 


improve employee development


1. Reskilling and upskilling

In 1995, the group TLC released the song “Waterfalls”, with the memorable lyric,

“Don’t go chasing waterfalls

Please stick to the lakes and the rivers you’re used to.”

We might update this song just a bit for talent recruiting and retention with our own version:

“Don’t go chasing unicorns

Please stick to the talent and workers you’re used to.”

My career in songwriting is probably a pipe dream, but you get the point. The “perfect” employee will have all of the hard and soft skills you could ever want. Whether you want to call them a unicorn or a purple squirrel or a purple unicorn is up to you. Either way, those people are few and far between, and the cost of hiring them is likely way outside most budgets because they know how much they’re worth. As well, waiting around until they magically appear and apply for your job is also expensive


Instead, focus your attention on offering your existing employees reskilling and upskilling opportunities. 

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  • Reskilling involves teaching your workers new skills that allow them to move into new positions or roles and take on new challenges within your organization.
  • Upskilling involves teaching employees additional skills already aligned to their current role that allows them to perform in their existing role more effectively. 


Both of these are important, and you may need to provide your talent professionals with both upskilling and reskilling opportunities. Mckinsey recently noted that the need for reskilling and upskilling has been enhanced by both the “imbalances in talent supply and demand” and “changes in supply chains”.  Workers are getting harder to find, and that includes workers with the skills you need. Leveraging your existing workforce will save your organization time and money. Instead of empowering them to get higher wages from competitors, giving them the space to grow will make them more likely to stay.


2. Career pathing

Did you know that just before the pandemic started, 64% of workers would accept a promotion without a raise? That number may have gone down a bit, but it’s a startlingly high amount. It also underscores the fact that your people want leadership opportunities; they just aren’t sure how to get them. 

Career pathing is all about helping your talent navigate their way from Point A(ssociate) to Point B(oss). There’s no specified guide for how career pathing should look, but here are two ways it can look:

  • Create a visual career path guide that you give to workers on day one. You may even want to customize it so that it shows where along that pathway they’ve landed upon being hired (great for mid-career hires), and the possible branches their role can take.
  • Connect them to career guides: individuals within your organization who are at a higher level and who can help them understand what it takes to move up. This can also serve triple duty as a way to network and a way to learn new skills with more experienced talent serving as mentors. 

Much like learning opportunities, workers want their employers to give them a good idea of whether or not they can move up within the organization, and what that pathway looks like. They also want assistance in navigating their way in that direction, which ultimately means career coaching or mentoring opportunities with more tenured team members. 


This is why 82% of workers would call it quits if their employer offered no career pathing. Even if it’s not your intention, failing to provide career pathing can be subtly interpreted as having no interest in their long-term career.

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3. Relationship building

Last but certainly not least, think about how you’re building effective relationships between your team members. Particularly in light of the remote work (which is here to stay), your talent professionals need to feel connected. They need to develop stronger intra-team and cross-functional connections that make large organizations feel closer and more intimate, especially if they’re sitting alone in a home office all day. 

Employees who don’t feel like they belong are more likely to quit. According to a 2021 McKinsey study on the Great Resignation, “a sense of belonging” was among the most important job elements for workers. It was just under “valued by organization” and “valued by manager”. It’s hard for workers to feel valued if they aren’t connected, seen, and recognized.  


employee development plans


The need for this is especially true for Black workers. Only 33% of Black workers reported having one or more sponsors at work, despite 87% of companies reporting that they have sponsorship programs. And only 23% felt they had any reasonable amount of support at work to advance their career.

Foster relationship building in several ways:

  • Host Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
  • Create group learning and networking opportunities
  • Connect junior employees with executives and tenured staff
  • Create 1:1 and group mentoring programs

Keep in mind that not all connection building needs to have an attached learning goal. Affinity groups, for example, may get a bad reputation for being social clubs. More often than not, that’s not the case, and in fact, they’re often the strong support networks that many in your team need to feel better connected to the organization. Ultimately, that leads to lower attrition rates, which we can agree makes just about everyone happy. 


Enhance Employee Development with Mentoring Programs

Quite often, the biggest hurdle for development is matching individuals with the right mentor who can help them build those skills, find their path, and establish those relationships they need to succeed. 

MentorcliQ’s mentoring software streamlines this process, allowing you to dramatically reduce the time it takes to match program participants. And thanks to our science-backed personality algorithm, mentors and mentees typically report over 90% satisfaction with their relationships. It’s no wonder companies like 21st Century Fox, LabCorp, Cardinal Health, Bacardi, Legrand, and hundreds more have decided to leverage MentorcliQ’s software as a key part of their engagement, retention, and employee development strategies

Sam Cook
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