Show Employees the Way: Enhancing Retention With Career Path Discussions

How often to discuss your employees' professional growth and 4 tips for talking about career paths.


To improve their retention efforts, employers are increasing salaries and offering enhanced perks. Yet, there is a no-cost tool that serves as a valuable complement and can be a powerful differentiator in its own right: the career path discussion.

In a Robert Half survey, more than nine in 10 (93 percent) accounting and finance professionals said they would like their manager to discuss their career path with them at least once a year. Forty-eight percent seek these conversations once or more a quarter.

Expecting such levels of communication is proving wishful thinking for many, however. Forty percent of respondents reported their manager never reviews their career path with them.

This represents a missed opportunity, not just to retain but also to attract, top performers. In addition to compensation, in-demand job candidates frequently prioritize finding an employer that has identified how it will help them grow professionally and advance to higher-level positions.

How often is often enough?

Many employers will include conversations on career progression as part of an annual review. As the research shows, though, this often is not enough.

These interactions take on renewed urgency with Generation Z’s emergence in the workforce. In a report from Robert Half and Enactus, members of this group cited opportunities for growth as their top priority when seeking a job. Gen Z professionals are willing to put in the effort – most think they’ll need to work harder than the generations before them – but managers need to show where this will lead them.

How often should you have a career path talk with staff? There’s no one-size-fits-all schedule, but the answer may be as often as they want to discuss it. Ask each employee what is best for him or her, and adapt accordingly.

4 tips for talking about career paths

If you’re among the many managers who have never had a career path discussion with employees, or if you do so irregularly, here are tips:

  1. Start with goals. Some staff members, especially those at the beginning of their professional journey, need guidance on turning their career goals into a tangible plan. Find out what motivates them, including the type of work they are drawn to, if they would be interested in a supervisory role and where they feel they need to improve.
  1. Help them progress along the way. Establishing the career path is just the first step – next you need to help staff identify and secure the necessary resources to reach their objectives.When you outline goals, you undertake partial responsibility for helping employees achieve those goals. This can mean offering support through mentorships, training, on-the-job experience and education benefits. If they’re on a management track, professional development can help staff members acquire the requisite leadership and business acumen.
  2. Be realistic – and creative. As with all plans or promises, you shouldn’t make them unless you can deliver. Be open about the opportunities that will – and will not – be available. For example, if the company won’t be able to offer reimbursement for certification costs, or if there are no senior-level vacancies expected in the next few years, be up front about it.To avoid discouraging ambitious financial professionals, talk about the opportunities you anticipate will become available. Also look for alternative options. Although you might not be able to reimburse certification-related expenses, you could allow a flexible schedule that gives employees more time to study and pursue exam preparation courses. If there is a dearth of upcoming leadership positions, help staff grow their skills and prepare for advanced responsibilities by offering role rotation opportunities or an international assignment.
  1. Mix formal and informal chats. Even if you and your staff discuss their formal career plan only during the performance review period, have casual talks more often. Go out for coffee, and ask whether they feel they’re on track to meet their goals. Take the time to show you’re interested in their career progression – your investment and care will be appreciated.
You should never experience turnover due to a lack of career planning. With the cost and time associated with recruiting new accounting and finance professionals – and the even greater toll of losing top employees – it’s in your best interest to prioritize ongoing career path discussions.


Tim Hird is the executive director of Robert Half Management Resources.