Research by McKinsey (2014) reveals that by 2050, most workers will have had 14 jobs by the age of 50. The Gallop poll “State of American Workplace” 2017 reports that 35% of American employees have changed jobs within the last three years. In Belgium, mobility is much lower. Securex (2016) mentions that it was at 16% in 2015. Is this number worrisome?
The argument in favor of mobility is found throughout career literature, where mobility is seen as a necessary condition for employability and agility. In other words, people who do not change jobs/employer have a higher chance of becoming obsolete.
In many organizations, this challenge is put to the HR department. Although in reality, this is a challenge for all stakeholders because literally nobody gains from low mobility numbers: organizations and teams become incapable of innovation, individuals sense that they struggle to stay relevant as the years go by, and finally society can’t afford inactivity.
I think all stakeholders in their own way work hard to maintain the status quo and they all have reasons to:
- While HR genuinely strive to improve internal mobility, HR professionals also harbor a deeply ambiguous relationship towards external mobility. They are plagued by questions such as: “What if is our best people leave the organization?” “How hard is to find a replacement?” “Will new people perform well quickly?” But mobility is mobility whether it is internal or external. You can’t have one without the other. So inadvertently, in trying to prevent external mobility, internal mobility – albeit highly desired – is also prohibited.
- Managers tend to look at the short term. Not wanting to jeopardize the performance of their teams, they spread the message, both directly and indirectly, that mobility is undesirable.
- Recruiters and career coaches continuously witness that many individuals find it difficult to move to another department or organization. It’s only human to prioritize the present, even if one’s current situation is far from perfect. Making a change for the better can be hindered by overwhelming uncertainty. For this reason, many people will not make a move until they are forced to do so by for example the following situations: “Due to restructuring, my job will be gone in a couple of months”, “I am feeling so bad in the current situation that I will burn out soon if I do nothing”, “My current job will be relocated to another office 100 km from my current working location, that commute will be physically impossible.”
- The Belgian government has dedicated a great deal of effort to stimulation mobility. One innovation the country can boast is the “Career Checques” system, which allows individuals to receive professional career counseling at an affordable rate. This is unique in the whole world, or how a small country can be big.
The question, therefore, boils down to this “How can one develop mobility all the while taking into account stakeholder concerns?” Here are some tips:
- Make employability every stakeholder’s concern, by exploring the long term consequences of the status quo together with all stakeholders.
- Similarly, external mobility should be explored thoroughly with the stakeholders, in order to ease their anxiety about the topic. Have them explore each other’s points of view and build a more sustainable mobility culture together. Remember: a person leaving you for the wrong reasons is a disaster. People staying for the wrong reasons is too. If people have been able to engage in a qualitative career discussion and have reached the joint conclusion on that an external step is for the best, then external mobility sould not be considered a problem.
- Implement mobility measures that break down barriers for internal mobility for individuals. What can you do to make the unknown known, so that people can convince themselves that making a move is beneficial to them? An interesting real-life example of which I am aware is an employer who allows people to walk in a colleague’s shoes for a couple of days. The aim of this exercise is to gain a better understanding of the job as a whole, and potentially meet potential new colleagues. Having internal job markets where departments can present themselves to colleagues from other departments also helps. Or consider putting measures in place which allow employees to return if things don’t work out in the new department.
In conclusion, if employability and agility are issues in your organization, mobility is part of the solution. Whether people show an inherent tendency towards mobility is partly defined by the talent culture in your organization. Changing that culture is something that has to be done through a unified front, which includes all stakeholders.