Keys to retention: Career advancement, strong leadership

Many companies are ill-prepared to face talent retention challenges as the global labour market grows more competitive, two new surveys show.

Employees often perceive limited opportunities for career advancement with their current employers and lack confidence in their organisations’ leadership, the results of two surveys by global consulting firm Towers Watson indicate.

Employers that fail to address these problems risk losing their best talent, as opportunities for employees to leave their companies appear to be increasing.

Forty-eight per cent of 1,637 employers from across the world participating in Towers Watson’s Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey said hiring activity has increased compared with last year; just 15% said hiring activity has decreased.

And 35% of employers said turnover was rising, compared with 18% who said turnover was decreasing. The most coveted employees often are the ones who are leaving; respondents said they are having difficulty retaining high-potential employees (56%) and top performers (54%).

“With talent mobility on the rise, employers need to understand what employees value if they are to succeed in attracting and retaining employees,” Laura Sejen, a managing director at Towers Watson, said in a news release. “Unfortunately, our surveys reveal a significant disconnect between employers and employees.”

Sejen said that employers recognise the importance of pay and career advancement as key reasons employees decide to join and remain with a company.

But career advancement remains a struggle for companies, as just 49% believe they are effective at providing traditional opportunities for employees to advance. And 41% of more than 32,000 employees surveyed in Towers Watson’s Global Workforce Study said they would need to leave their organisation to advance their careers.

Meanwhile, employers are not as focused as employees on job security and trust and confidence in senior leadership, Sejen said. Less than half of respondents (48%) said that senior leadership is effective.

The survey results indicate that employers looking to improve retention, engagement, and employee career development can consider the following actions:

  • Develop leadership. Despite employees’ lack of confidence in leadership, just 62% of employers have a formal leadership development program in place.
  • Design a more consumer-like experience for employees. Seventy per cent of employees said their organisation should understand them to the same degree that they are expected to understand customers.
  • Equip managers for career development. Just one-third of employers say managers are effective at discussing career development during the performance management process.
  • Monitor progress. Just 27% of organisations say they monitor the effectiveness of their career management programs.

Ken Tysiac ( is a CGMA Magazine editorial director.