I’m a huge proponent of developing your employees. I was raised by a Baby Boomer who would tell me, “If you spend money on developing employees, they’ll just leave for a better job, so it’s a waste of money!” I’m sure many of you reading this probably have current bosses who have the same theory of management and employee development.
Early on in my career, I had some great mentors, thankfully, who taught me the complete opposite. “If you don’t develop your employees, they’ll be crappy, and stay with you forever because no one else will want to hire them!” The philosophy being, sure, some employees might get better skills and leave you for new positions, but there’s a dirty little secret that happens in development.
What’s the secret?
If you do develop your employees, they’re actually more likely to stay at your organization than leave. Employees find out really quickly that organizations that invest in their personal development are few and far between. Sure, you’ll get giant companies who will spend money on development, but most employees are hired working for small and medium-sized businesses that are usually budget constrained.
Then come along these Millennials. They love to change jobs every two to three years. They like to believe they invented the gig economy. They are not loyal to an employer and are proud of it. The theory that you’ll develop people and that will actually help you retain them gets thrown out the window.
So, the question is, do you still spend organizational resources to develop employees when they are predisposed to leave you regardless?
It’s not a simple question.
I’m wondering if I personally decide that I want a career path where I jump from company to company, from project to project, because that is my career preference, shouldn’t I then own my own professional development?
Organizations put resources into developing their employees because there is a return on investment to the organization. If I spend $3000 per year developing you as an employee, I expect over the next year or two, that investment will pay dividends. The organization will actually make more than the $3000 we spent on your development. Otherwise, the developing employees would be a losing money proposition.
I know the organizations I know—private, public and nonprofit—are not in the money-losing business!
So, now I’m perplexed. On one side I hear my mom telling me don’t spend money on your employees, they’ll just leave you! I have my mentors telling me it’s better to develop and have a great talent for a time, even if it’s not for a long time, so spend that money and develop!
We are in a place and time in our country where we have more jobs than talent to fill them, so we are being forced to face this employee development dilemma. Spend a huge amount of organizational resources on developing the talent you desperately need, or spend even more money and buy the talent you need at the top of the market.
There is a light on the horizon. GenZ, the generation coming into the workforce today, is different than the Millennials. Their character traits are loyalty and realism. They saw family and friends lose jobs and homes during the great recession. They overheard stressful conversations of their parents during hard times. They didn’t get to go to Disney, and had to do “Staycations”.
I’m going to keep developing my employees. I’m still a believer that I would rather develop someone to be great, and work to show them why staying ‘here’ is better than leaving. To figure out how to give them the challenge they’re looking for in my barn, not someone else’s. It won’t work every time. I’ll have good people leave that I spent a bunch of resources on, but my hope is those people will say good things about us, and it’ll come back full circle.