The adage “A rising tide lifts all boats” applies to the world of companies and their employees.
The more your employees grow in their personal and professional lives, the better it is for your business. So, you have an interest in their professional futures. And that interest extends beyond a living wage and matching 401(k) funds.
To maximize your employees’ output, you need to help them secure their professional futures through skills training, employee benefits, and pathways to rise within your company.
Some employers baulk at such career investment, seeing it as a “loss” if workers decide to move on later. But that’s a short-sighted approach. There’s no losing when you help an individual advance in their career. They will remember the positive experience.
And you’ll see a return in the form of a five-star Glassdoor review, new hire referral, or positive word-of-mouth advertising for your brand. When you do good by your employees, they’ll return the favour.
Here are six ways to help them prepare your employees for their futures.
1. Offer Employee Insurance Programs
For your employees to have a bright future, they need to be physically and mentally healthy. Comprehensive employer-sponsored insurance programs are practical tools for helping your employees plan for their future.
Comprehensive insurance programs are also good recruitment tools for attracting qualified candidates. And a robust employer-provided health plan helps keep retention rates high. That’s because the majority of U.S. adults consider health care coverage a key factor when deciding whether to stay at a job.
Providing end-of-life planning and burial insurance also help employees prepared for the future. Educate employees with end-of-life workshops and training on life insurance options. Unlike health care, these insurance plans aren’t one-size-fits-all.
Each employee will have different needs and circumstances that require different policies. Younger folks may not see the benefits of end-of-life planning.
But the average cost of burial insurance is lower when you buy it at a younger age. So, information like this is likely to encourage them to start planning early.
2. Start a Mentorship Program
Mentoring programs are low-cost ways to invest in your employees’ future. Because you’re using your existing employees, your upfront costs are low. But your return from building personal connections, teaching new skills, and expanding innovation are huge.
Supporting a mentorship demonstrates to workers that you’re serious about helping them move forward in their careers.
The results? Increased loyalty and productivity.
There are several choices to make when building a mentorship program.
For one, you’ll want to decide whether the program is mandatory or voluntary. Mandatory programs spread the benefits across your company. But not everyone will appreciate the opportunity.
And connecting the right people will take more planning and may become unwieldy for companies with large numbers of workers. Open invitations, on the other hand, attract motivated people who want to connect and learn. So, it’s an easier way to get your program up and running.
Another consideration for your mentorship program is the type of connections you want to make.
Don’t assume your only option is to pair up a new hire with an experienced employee. These one-on-one connections work well, but you can also pair a mentor with a mentee in other ways (e.g., for the duration of a project).
And don’t limit your scope to only finding professional mentors. Social programs like the Boys and Girls Club of American can help teach employees empathy, responsibility, and stewardship.
3. Help Employees Network
Most of your employees probably got their jobs through a referral and most already understand the benefits of networking in their professional careers.
But networking habits can wane once employees become comfortable and job security is high. In reality, professional networking is the heart of your employees’ professional future. And it’s essential to your company’s success.
The more internal networks your employees form, the better they will work as a team. And, the more external connections, the more resources they bring to your sales and recruitment efforts. So, make networking a priority in your work culture.
To increase networking opportunities for your employees, avoid silos when assigning workspaces. Mix things up with seating charts that intermingle different departments, personalities, and skill levels.
Organize office spaces to encourage spontaneous interactions among workers. And keep remote workers and satellite offices connected through video and conference calls.
Assign mentors to new hires. Provide gift cards for coffee runs and quick get-to-know-you meetings. And make sure your company’s organization chart and directory are complete, up-to-date, and available for everyone.
Finally, organize networking opportunities yourself. Partner with business owners and thought leaders in your community to host mixers and educational presentations. When you combine education and networking opportunities, you’re doubling your investment
4. Provide Professional Development Opportunities
Encourage employee growth and development through a strong professional development plan.
Companies with formalized training programs report higher incomes per employee than those lacking one. And continuing education helps your employees plan their future careers within your company. This helps raise retention, improves job satisfaction, and helps you identify rising stars.
Provide professional growth opportunities that fit the company’s goals, but don’t forget the employee’s needs. They may not be the same thing. When possible, align these two goals for maximum benefit.
Alignment takes understanding individual experiences, skills, and interests of your employees. You may want to cross-train some team members to meet your firm’s long term goals. But don’t make arbitrary assignments or choose the most skilled workers. They may have little interest in learning the new role, and the work will suffer as a result.
Too often, employers offer top performers more opportunities and stretch assignments to broaden their skill set. But this strategy — while effective in the short term — only benefits a few employees.
Whereas, assigning a mediocre performer with high motivation and interest will benefit the company and the employee in the long run. Plus, putting all your professional development eggs into one basket leaves your team depending on a few to execute. So, keep professional development available, targeted, and democratized.
5. Teach Leadership Skills
Strong leadership skills facilitate better collaboration and innovation in the workplace. But they’re also helpful to an employee’s life outside of work.
Soft skills like communication, empathy, delegation, positivity, and creativity are all qualities of a healthy individual. And workers can use them to become better parents, friends, and citizens outside of work in addition to becoming more effective in the office.
Talk to your employees about leadership skills and give your employees opportunities to grow them.
Discuss which skills they already have, which ones are progressing or under development, and which ones they need to focus on moving forward. Then, help them look for opportunities to develop and practice the leadership skills you talk about.
Encourage team members to speak at conferences to improve their public speaking. Rotate jobs so workers can exercise their problem-solving skills. Assign individuals to run meetings to practice group communication. These kinds of activities will give them the practice they need to truly develop leadership skills.
6. Help Them Recognize What They’re Capable Of
Many employees want to learn and grow, but often are afraid to ask for a promotion or don’t feel that they are capable of keeping up with the responsibilities of a higher position. Many are quick to doubt their worth as an employee and might begin to feel unmotivated.
Especially in such cases, it’s important for you to openly recognize your employees’ work and point out the things they’re doing well, giving them extra praise for difficult projects or exceptional results. When you point out the things they do well, you help them to see their value as an employee and build their confidence.
Along with helping them with their confidence, you need to help them see their potential by talking about ways to move up in the company.
Find out where they would like to take their career in the future and help pave a path for them. Talk about what they need to improve upon and set small goals as baby steps to get them to their main goal. Show them that, although they may not have the skillset they need quite yet, they can learn and cultivate those skills and that their goals are not far out of reach.
These six things are only a few of the many ways you can help your employees prepare for the future. Experiences like these are invaluable, real-world opportunities. But they’re only as valid as your trust in your team. Trust them to do their work and trust that if they experience failure, they’ll be able to fix it and bounce back, having learned through their mistakes.
If you don’t give workers the freedom to fail, you’re squashing much of the impact these experiences bring. Employees afraid that any failure will be punished won’t take advantage of new growth opportunities and won’t feel motivated. You must create a culture where initiative and failure are the stepping stones to success.