When you think of the word “career,” what image comes to mind? 

Most graphics don’t just depict a desk — they show a ladder, a series of steps or an arrow from the ground to the clouds. “Career” is defined (by Merriam-Webster) as “a profession for which one trains” involving “consecutive progressive achievement.” That’s not about standing still. 

Clearly, career is a dynamic thing. And when a new hire steps into your virtual or physical space, it’s not just to stay in one place or role, completing their assigned tasks. The larger reason they’re there is to perpetuate their own consecutive progressive achievement. 

The importance of offering learning and development opportunities to your employees was further highlighted over the past year of uncertainty. COVID-19 amplified the need for employee development where many employees took on new job roles and responsibilities, or for employers hiring career transition candidates. 

So, what happens when your employees aren’t provided with opportunities to grow and develop their careers? It’ll likely cost you in several key areas: 

Hiring a replacement can cost up to 33% of a departed employee’s annual salary

The evidence is clear: Fail to offer employee development opportunities, and workers will leave. 

A large-scale study by Employee Benefit News reveals a striking statistic when looking at more than 34,000 exit interviews: the top reason (22%) for leaving is career development, with 21% of that attributed to a lack of growth opportunities. What’s more, the report finds that the cost of finding a replacement when a worker leaves can easily reach one-third (33%) of their annual salary in direct costs.

These figures will obviously vary, dependent upon factors like economic conditions or the overall state of your industry (just to name a few). But the overall sentiment remains steadfast no matter the circumstances: turnover is costly for any employer. But it’s a risk that can be reduced to some degree by offering your employees sufficient employee development opportunities.

Some other good news: That 22% number refutes a rather trendy habit of blaming the manager for turnover. In the same report, only 11% of workers cite management and behavior as their cause for departure.

Workers leaving costs money any way you slice it

So, what goes into the 33% of salary costs it takes to replace an employee? A laundry list, including payouts for accrued vacation and sick leave; health care coverage contributions; increased unemployment taxes; severance pay; relocation packages; and signing bonuses. 

Also consider that the average time-to-fill a role for a smaller company is 41 days, which costs a lot in time and energy on the part of your recruiting and hiring team. For larger companies, it’s down to 38 days — but that’s still a long time to lose a lot of momentum (as we’ll discuss below). Finally, you’ll have to factor in the average per-employee training budget: $1,886, according to a recent state of the industry report.

Your teams, workflows and culture take a hit, too

When an employee leaves because they were not learning or growing, there are layers of consequences. All the effort to turn a team of individuals into a cohesive unit means that employee satisfaction — or in this case, dissatisfaction — can spread quickly, particularly among smaller teams that work intensely and closely on a per-project basis. 

Losing a key player not only stalls momentum, but can also short-circuit the achievement of key objectives. To mitigate this, consider training employees in groups instead of one-on-one. Group training has tangible benefits, such as better team-building, lower costs, higher morale and better outcomes. When team members can communicate and exchange ideas, it improves the learning experience and enables them to turn to each other for support — which also eases the strain on supervisors.

Take four steps to improve employee development

Now that you’re convinced of its importance, take these four critical steps to create a solid foundation for employee development:  

  1. Assess your skills gaps. SHRM’s 2019 skills gap research found that a whopping 83% of human resources professionals have trouble when it comes to recruiting — and 75% of them say candidates lack the skills needed to fill a job opening.

    While market pressures and budget shortfalls may cause some companies to hold off on investments in training, this may be the shortest distance between two points, allowing you to train up both new and existing staff. Pinpointing specific skills gaps for positions of all levels and addressing them with learning modules can help improve performance and engagement.
  1. Survey all employees on training “needs and wants.” Going beyond the needs of specific skills for specific roles, dig into your employees’ personal and professional desires.

    Survey employees at all levels of your organization, giving them the chance to be involved and participate. This turns your employee development program into a company-wide initiative, jumpstarting a positive culture of learning. 
  1. Reach out to your managers separately. Survey managers on their own training needs as well as on employee needs. No one is more aware of a learning deficit or a skills gap than a manager who has to cope with it every day among their team.

    Don’t blame the managers for these gaps, or deprive them of their own chance to grow; they deserve the chance and the opportunity to better their skills, too. Offer training in leadership, communication, conflict resolution, diversity and inclusion and more to help them move up the leadership ladder. 
  1. Conduct a futurecast of pain points. A new study out of Munich and Rotterdam Universities finds an interesting paradox: While people are generally concerned about their jobs being taken over by machines, what they’re really worried about isn’t being replaced by a robot — it’s being replaced by another human.

    Still, most employees are unprepared for the coming augmented workforce. Companies need to give their people a chance to develop the skills and familiarity they will need in the very near future, including how to work with cognitive machines and artificial intelligence. 

Believe in workers, and they will believe in you

If you want to retain your employees, don’t take the stance that if you train them, they will leave; in fact, just the opposite is true. Today’s workforce believes in itself and its own worth, and wants to work for employers that share that belief.

It’s no accident that the companies who consistently make such lists as the “100 Best Companies to Work For” tend to provide extensive training for employee career development. In fact, a recent study of the Fortune 100 list found that winning organizations provide nearly twice as many training hours as other companies, while seeing two-thirds less turnover. 

The message of these organizations is clear: We believe in you. 

In exchange for an employee’s time and energy, the employer needs to tend to that employee’s development. You believe in them, and they will believe in you — and stick around longer.


Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized analyst, author, speaker and brand strategist. The founder of TalentCulture, she hosts #WorkTrends, a popular weekly Twitter Chat and podcast. Her career spans across recruiting, talent management, digital media and brand strategy for hundreds of companies, from startups to global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google. She also serves on advisory boards for leading HR technology brands. Meghan can be regularly found on Forbes, SHRM, and a variety of other outlets. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.