This Leadership Approach is Damaging Careers. A Harvard Business Review Study Explains Why

In the wake of the great resignation, many business leaders frantically sought ways to keep their best talent on board. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution – it depends on the industry, available resources, commercial installation, and at least a dozen other factors.

However, there is one recurring best practice that seems to have a consistent effect: offering professional development. In other words, give your employees the opportunity to advance in their careers through skills training and certification.

Companies with incomplete or absent professional development programs often tend to take the “for the moment” path: delegating work to those at the bottom of the ladder so that they gain experience in management, strategy development, and leadership.

And as Harvard Business Review (HBR) revealed in a series of studies, this well-intentioned attempt at informal professional development can take off quickly. Research shows that it often reduces employees’ energy levels and job satisfaction, making them reluctant to take on similar “outside the box” tasks in the future.

Root that energy drains? Lack of leadership support. HBR studies revealed that in many cases, employees who were assigned additional responsibilities did not have ongoing guidance from senior officials. They are left to their own devices.

But there’s another piece here that this Harvard Business Review article doesn’t touch on, but is just as important: career intrusion. It often masquerades as professional development, but there is a fine line between upgrading one’s skills and doing more work.

Many companies encourage employees to expand beyond the job description to show they are ready for promotion, yet there is no formal process for determining what this additional work should be or how it might be considered considerations for promotion.

My point is: Giving your employees extra work and calling it professional development without thought, structure, or planning is more than a conditional – it’s offensive and may drive your best talent out.

If you’re serious about upgrading your team, build a career advancement path with clear milestones and support mechanisms so you avoid the energy drain HBR emphasizes, the scale creep that has plagued companies across industries.

(Final note: If you are interested in the practice/effect of scope creep in the workplace, I recommend reading this academic article. It’s a good foundational look at how job creep can happen, which will help you avoid it on your own company.)

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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