man in office thinking about his career development

Improve Employee Retention with Career Pathing

These days, it’s not enough for companies  to rely on compensation and classic perks to retain their best employees. According to a 2020 Deloitte survey, lack of career progress was the biggest factor in encouraging employees to look for new employment. 

It’s easy to see why. Employees are more likely to be engaged in their work when they have a sense of purpose and the chance to learn and grow. Companies who aren’t intentional about employee development and career growth run the risk of increased turnover and greater difficulty attracting talented workers. If your organization has left career pathing to individual employees, now’s a good time to get actively involved. 

female manager and male direct report sitting at table discussing career pathing in organization

What is Career Pathing?

Career pathing is the process of mapping out an employee’s potential trajectory at a company. According to SHRM, it typically involves three steps: self-assessment, individualized career map, and exploring opportunities.

Self-assessment involves the employee reflecting on and exploring their experiences, skills, and knowledge. Ideally, the manager would be involved in this process so both can get a realistic idea of where the employee is at. A few career pathing questions that can help an employee during the self-assessment process include:

  • What are my interests?
  • What are my goals?
  • What skills do I have?
  • What is my personality best suited for?
  • Do I need further knowledge, education or training?

Individual career mapping is where manager and employee identify positions and or functions within the company that an employee might want to work towards, based on their interests and experiences. Whether this involves long term goals for the employee to land their dream job, or a starting point to develop soft skills that align with their professional development, individual career mapping is an important step in creating a career that gives an employee a sense of purpose.

Exploring opportunities allows for manager and employee to identify vacancies and openings for which the employee could potentially apply. 


Organizational Benefits of Career Pathing

Career pathing, when done right, can improve an organization’s retention rate and attract new talent. Two out of three women who plan to re-enter the workforce after the pandemic reported the intention to look for a job that offers more opportunity for skill development and personal career advancement, according to a Verizon survey. In addition, according to McKinsey and Company, 70 percent of employees reported getting their sense of purpose from work.

When an employee’s sense of purpose and growth aligns with the company’s mission, employers can expect a stronger level of employee engagement, loyalty, and a greater likelihood of recommending the company to others. Companies and employees can work together to identify the areas where an employee’s and a company’s sense of purpose intersect to create better alignment.


male employee sitting at desktop computer planning career advancement

Career Mapping Examples

Career pathing can take many different forms. Some organizations have traditional career ladders, and each step of the ladder represents a step up in organizational hierarchy and responsibility. The “lowest” rung is typically an individual contributor. Sometimes, a transition to a managerial role is required to step up to a higher rung. Other times, climbing the leader means an increased level of specialization, and a narrower but deeper focus. 

Today, a straight climb to the top is very rare. This is why many companies view career pathing through the lens of a career lattice—a flexible approach for career building—will work better for most companies. Employees might make lateral moves or take a step back while trying their hand at a different function of the company. 

Through meetings with managers and others in the organization, employees can determine what skill sets and career goals are important to them, while mapping those desires to possible career opportunities across the org chart. Sometimes, career pathing leads not to a new role but an increased responsibility or pivot in an existing role. Leave room for changes and adjustments along the way. This allows the employee to feel more in control of their progress while feeling valued and invested in by the company they serve.  


woman working at her computer in an office. Male colleague sits nearby.

How Does Mentoring Enable Career Pathing?

Of course, it’s not enough for managers and employees to identify a career path. There is also not a one-size-fits-all career pathing template. However, mentorship can be used as a tool to make those moves and advancements possible. One Wharton report recommended mentoring and sponsorship as ways to improve affective commitment, reduce burnout and minimize turnover intent.  

Here are some examples of how specific mentorship program can help with career pathing:

  • 1:1 mentoring gives employees a support system and sounding board to strategize their career advancements. If the mentor is in a senior position of the organization, they can also connect mentees with key players and decision-makers within the organization. 
  • Mentoring circles allow employees the chance to develop specific skills that they may need to hone on to progress in their careers. 
  • Peer mentoring provides a platform for employees to network and build connections and relationships that may benefit down the road as they advance through the company. 

An engaged employee is a productive one. If companies want to retain (and attract) top talent, it’s imperative to showcase a plan for a path forward that takes into account employee wants while priming a robust pipeline for the future of the organization. 

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