HR Pitfalls and How to Avoid Flatlining Deserving Employees

Flatlining is an age-old obstacle to talent management

by Don Alix

In a tight labor market, businesses want to fill open positions with new talent but may have in-house talent that fits the bill. However, these in-house applicants do not always receive the encouragement or take the initiative to apply.

Over time, this can result in “flatlining,” which is when successful, deserving employees are stalling in their careers without forward momentum. Flatlining existed long before the “Great Resignation” yet often goes unnoticed by professionals year after year. If not addressed, flatlining employees may find themselves unhappy with their role and responsibility once they reach mid-career.

The cycle begins when employees may become comfortable enough in their current position they decline to apply or ask for a promotion. Though the employee excels in a role, so long as they fail to take initiative, managers may feel tempted to keep them in their position, for fear of having to hire a replacement in a tight labor market. As a result, that employee’s career growth stagnates within the company, eventually pushing them to find employment elsewhere.

Though flatlining afflicts individual employees, not businesses, flatlining can reduce retention and harm morale, so it remains important for leadership to address. Businesses thrive with a culture of growth and confidence, where employees feel motivated to achieve. However, excessive flatlining within an organization can also produce a culture of complacency, undermining talent management. Effective ways to reduce flatlining among workers include communicating around career growth, providing training opportunities and strengthening recruitment.

Communication Is Key

Communication is critical to helping employees grow into their next role. Annual reviews offer an invaluable chance for workers to set goals and look toward the future and for managers to communicate their support to employees. During their annual reviews, employees should feel comfortable and confident discussing their achievements and expressing their desire to take on greater responsibility. Managers should also ask employees about their aspirations and what tools they need to reach them.

Employees benefit from this type of communication encouraging them to envision their future in the business and in the industry. While most professionals aspire to grow in their careers, not every individual knows how to advocate for themselves by expressing goals to their supervisors. Managers can help employees stay on track to meet their goals by offering tips to stand out and teaching necessary skills before the next promotion. In addition, goal setting or career-planning workshops can encourage workers to take initiative.

In a culture of confidence, every conversation between workers and managers will take place with an eye on the future. Employees will complete projects with an understanding of what the project means to business, which skills they acquired and how the experience prepares them for their next position. Check-ins throughout the year between employees and their supervisors should not only address what has gone well recently but also how goals can be met ahead of the next annual review and promotion cycle.

Train Employees for Their Next Role In-House

Another key solution to “flatlining” is upskilling, which teaches employees additional skills to grow their capabilities. Upskilling programs offer immense benefits to both employees and employers.

For many workers who find themselves flatlining at work, upskilling can result in greater skills, more satisfaction and even higher income. For organizations facing a culture of complacency, upskilling can bring renewed ambition and innovation into their workforce. A stronger, more confident culture will strengthen talent management, promote worker retention and ensure in-house talent receives recognition.

Recruit with an Eye on Ambition

Many flatlining employees just need a push from a manager or mentor to focus on their future. However, some workers may experience a chronic lack of ambition. While individuals can discover greater ambition at any point in life, businesses should recruit with an attention toward candidates who show a consistent desire to grow and learn. Once hired, these applicants will bring that motivation and confidence into the culture, motivating their co-workers to do the same.

To identify which candidates feel driven to succeed, recruiters may defy some conventional recruiting wisdom. Traditionally, recruiters view job hopping on a resume as a negative. However, job hopping may not reflect an issue if the job changes lead to career progress.

With that in mind, if a candidate moves from one job to another for a role with higher status or responsibility, recruiters can interpret that as a sign of ambition. Fewer candidates feel inherent loyalty to their employers and if their career begins to stagnate, they may move on to the next opportunity instead of waiting for a promotion. Similarly, ambitious candidates may leave a larger business for a smaller team where they can create the most impact. Finding and hiring these candidates will counteract a culture of flatlining and build a culture of confidence and achievement.

An age-old issue, flatlining can hold back employees and prevent businesses from tapping in-house talent. The answer is an investment in communication, training and recruitment to counteract a culture of complacency and build a culture of confidence.

Don Alix is a district manager with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources offering the most comprehensive suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

This is a two-part feature:

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