Want to be happy at work? Focus on career growth, not money

Want to be happy at work? Focus on career growth, not money

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September 30, 2019

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By the time you read this, Bill Brown may have already quit his job. The 28-year-old social-media manager has had it up to here with repeatedly completing the tasks listed in his position description — composing clever tweets and logging Facebook updates and Instagram posts on behalf of his employer, a consumer products company in Midtown.

“I’m clever, I can be funny and I guess I get paid pretty well,” says Brown (who’s using a psuedonym for professional reasons). “But this is not all I want to do for the rest of my life, or even until I’m 30. It’s time to learn and do something more. I don’t see that happening here.”

His sentiment rings true among a vast number of US workers. A survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of learning platform provider Instructure indicates that more than 34 percent of employees have left their jobs because they were craving career development.

‘Employers can no longer get away with developing only a few chosen people.’

That statistic is hardly an anomaly. A published report by research company Gartner found that in 2017, 41 percent of workers who left their employers cited lack of future career opportunity as the top reason, beyond compensation (36 percent). Still another report, by staffing firm Randstad, found that 57 percent of workers quit due to a limited ability to advance.“Employers can no longer get away with developing only a few chosen people,” says Jenn Labin, chief talent and diversity officer at ­mentoring-software maker MentorcliQ.

Brynn Harrington, director of people growth at Facebook, agrees.“People want license to craft a job that’s right for them, and they want their employer’s support [to do that],” she says.

That’s exactly what East Village resident Brian Kustera is able to do at Button, a mobile commerce startup based in Gramercy Park.

“On my very first day, I filled out a survey that asked what inspired me and where I wanted to go in my career,” he says.

“I mentioned that one day, I’d like to be the head of people.”Stephanie Mardell, Button’s vice president of personnel, took note.

“Developing our employees is one of our core values,” she says, highlighting something that the company’s CEO Michael Jaconi tells workers:

“I can’t promise to make you a millionaire, but I can promise you one of the best growth opportunities of your life.”

And for Kustera, that is already beginning to happen. After two years as the office experience and personnel operations manager, Mardell offered him a rotational role as a recruiter at the company. It’s experience he would need to bring to a chief personnel role at Button, or indeed anywhere else.

Initially, Kustera spent a few weeks learning the nuts and bolts of recruiting, shadowing a co-worker and taking on a few small assignments, all while maintaining the status quo of his previous role. After the rotation, Kustera told Mardell he wanted to hold on to the recruiting role, and she made it happen.

But not every path looks like Kustera’s. “There’s no one size fits all. Growth paths are very individual and personal,” says Mardell.It’s why the company employs an executive coaching resident to whom everyone has access. There are also career-enhancing community events like Talk-o Tuesdays, where workers spread their knowledge about a subject that they think is worth sharing. The “Pomodoro Technique” of time management was a recent topic. There’s also a speaker series where someone from outside the organization comes in to give a talk.

One lecturer, Chris Washburne, brought in his jazz band to demonstrate commonalities between leadership and jazz. It’s these kinds of things that today’s workers expect companies to provide.“They want to know: ‘I show up, I’m doing the work. What do you give me aside from a paycheck?’ ” says Lorna Hagen, chief people officer of Namely, a human resources software startup headquartered in the Financial District. But it’s not only edgy tech companies that are empowering workers. Professional services provider EY offers its more than 270,000 employees the tools they need to build their own careers.

Counselors are available to discuss goals and help provide access to resources and opportunities to help workers get where they would like to go. There are also mini courses in subjects like blockchain, robotic process automation and others which employees can take to earn badges that come in bronze, silver and gold, denoting the level of expertise attained. And while EY is completely aware that it is sponsoring employees to learn things that make them highly desirable recruits, the company is fine with it.“Our value proposition is that however long you stay with us, what’s most important is that we give you an outstanding experience through learning, career development and the opportunities that come through working with our incredible clients,” says Larry Nash, head of EY Americas recruiting.

The company also advocates that employees can quit and come back, or have “multiple careers under one roof.”A growing number of employers are doing away with concepts such as “career ladders” and “career paths” or even the idea that a manager’s title suggests that you are more valuable to the company, or automatically deserve a bigger paycheck, than others in the company. In fact, at Facebook, “manager is just another role” says Harrington, who has co-authored several articles about the changing nature of work for Harvard Business Review, outlining that striving for a job title might soon be considered passé.

“People want to design their own careers; they want to be seen for who they are and what they are good at,” she says.

“They want to craft a role that is right for them.”

And for those who don’t know what that is, Harrington suggests asking yourself: What do I like to do? What am I good at? Managers should then support workers in developing those areas in a way that also benefits the organization.