Freeing yourself from career quicksand’

PUBLISHED: 10:27 28 July 2006 | UPDATED: 10:34 06 May 2010

THERE S nothing more frustrating in a job than finding you re treading water year in, year out – or worse still, sinking in career quicksand. But sadly, many of us do feel that way, as a new survey reveals. According to new research by Investors in Peopl

THERE'S nothing more frustrating in a job than finding you're treading water year in, year out - or worse still, sinking in career quicksand.

But sadly, many of us do feel that way, as a new survey reveals.

According to new research by Investors in People, less than half of UK employees are happy with the way their careers are progressing, and many blame their bosses.

Two thirds believe their manager is important in their progression through a company - but less than half think he or she is actually doing enough to help them.

For managers themselves, the picture is much brighter. As many as 65 per cent claim to be happy with their career progression.

So where exactly is it going wrong for those lower down the hierarchy?

"I think the problem arises from a lack of thought, rather than a lack of care," says Nicola Clark, a director at Investors in People.

"Some managers just don't realise what a difference they are making by not supporting their staff in this way. They don't think back and remember what it was like for them.

"They forget what a difference it can make to have a good boss who is focussed on giving new challenges and talking about the future."

But does it really matter to a boss - or a company - whether or not people progress up the career ladder? If not, it certainly should, according to the experts.

"Work is a large part of people's lives and they want to feel they are getting something from it," says Clark.

"We've found time and again that they want challenge and stimulation - and if they don't get it they will go down the road to your competitor.

"If bosses don't take action, it can have a devastating effect on an organisation."

So what should managers be doing to ensure their staff are fulfilled and committed to their role?

A good starting point is to talk.

"It's all about communication," says Clark.

"Make sure you understand employees' aims and ambitions. That doesn't mean you have to be sitting down in discussions all the time - you might talk about it in an annual appraisal.

"But you need to be having personal development conversations about where staff want to go in the future."

It also really helps to remember what it was like when you were in a similar role or position to them. You have valuable experience that counts for an awful lot, so your mentoring - and interest - can make a very real difference to someone else's career.

You can talk about what you did, which courses you took and which things were helpful in your progression.

"I believe mentoring and guidance is at the heart of being a good manager," says Clark.

Finally, whatever you do, never oversell when advertising a position. The research found that as many as one in five employees claimed to have been mis-sold opportunities for career progression when they joined their organisation - and being misled in this way certainly doesn't bode well.

"Be honest and you will get the right person for the job, instead of somebody who is going to be frustrated and end up leaving," advises Clark.

Employees themselves also need to think about how they can implement changes. Here are a few tips.

1) Don't sink into apathy.

Think about where you want to be in five to 10 years and what you might need to do to get you there. We all need to develop new skills and expand our experience to maintain our enthusiasm and enhance our contribution.

2) Set yourself clear goals.

These could be development goals, new types of projects, a particular training course. Map out some specific steps or activities that will help you reinvigorate your progress.

3) Plan your development.

Most enlightened employers ensure there are development plans in place. If you haven't got a plan, ask your manager to build one with you.

4) Be creative - and persistent.

Keep looking round for new development opportunities, or try and create them yourself. You could come up with an idea for a new project or initiative to help the business, or work more closely with colleagues in a different team or department on some challenging issues.

5) Ask for support.

To pursue your goals, you will need support from your manager, human resources and your training team, if you have one. Colleagues might also be helpful. So take control of your own development and keep communicating with those around you.

6) Be strict with yourself.

It's all too easy to decide on a change, then let the enthusiasm ebb away. But this is your career and it should be a long-term commitment. Keep evaluating your progress against your goals and if things aren't going the way you want, examine what changes you can make.


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