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Getting tired of fighting attrition? Try rethinking internal mobility

By Jonathan Gove

It’s clear the competition for talent is a marathon, not a sprint. The collision of the pandemic, shifting demographics, and changing employee expectations means that there’s no end in sight for employers struggling to find qualified workers. With the continued tight labor market and “quick quitting” trend gaining momentum, workers are becoming less reluctant to move from employer to employer. In 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs, an unprecedented mass exodus. 

But what’s interesting is that while employee quits are rising, more than half (54%) of U.S. workers say they actually have better job opportunities at their current organization as compared to another organization. Yet only 23% say they have moved into a new role within their organization. 

Employees also recognize that a range of opportunities exist with their current employer, including job flexibility (70%), pay increases (68%), the ability to build new skills (66%), a better work environment (59%), promotions (53%), and a shift to a new field or career (41%).

Are workers finding opportunities within their organization?

54% Feel they have better job opportunities at their current organization

Feel they have better job opportunities at their current organization

23% Have moved into a new role within their organization

Have moved into a new role within their organization

Source: Eagle Hill Internal Mobility Survey 2022

What opportunities exist at your current organization?

Chart showing existing opportunities

Source: Eagle Hill Internal Mobility Survey 2022

This is a clear signal that employers can help combat attrition and “quick quitting” by doubling down on their internal mobility programs. This means investing in programs that enable—and even proactively encourage—employees to move from job to job with their current employer, rather than leaving their organization for a new role. This can take the form of employees pursuing new opportunities, taking on leadership roles, or developing additional skillsets. It also signals to employees that employers are committed to providing a path for achieving personal and professional ambitions.  

So why aren’t employees moving around internally? One of the barriers could be an awareness issue. About a quarter (26%) of workers say they don’t know about the job opportunities within their organizations, and they don’t understand the process for moving.

Another explanation is that some employees are skittish about managers finding out they’re looking for other internal positions. One-fifth (21%) of workers say they aren’t comfortable telling their direct manager they want to explore job options outside of their current role. In addition, 35% say they feel there would be negative repercussions if they explored other internal jobs. 

icon of role change

21%

of workers say they aren’t comfortable telling their direct manager they want to explore job options outside of their current role.

icon of internal connections

35%

of workers say they feel there would be negative repercussions if they explored other internal jobs.

Against this backdrop, what are the steps employers can take to refresh and amp up their internal mobility programs?  Here are five ways to get started:

1

Create a mobility culture. The most effective internal mobility programs are grounded in an employee-first culture. Without one, organizations risk battles between managers who hoard “their” employees instead of supporting employee growth. An employee-first culture requires both mindset and behavior shifts. Leaders must understand their role in advocating for employees’ growth and make it a priority to regularly engage with employees on their long-term career goals. Leaders should create a safe space for employees to speak up without fear and back their words with actions. This helps employees know that employers are sincere and that opportunities for internal advancement are real and achievable.

2

Remodel mobility programs. Most organizations don’t regularly assess how well internal mobility programs are meeting the needs of their various employee segments. With employee attitudes and expectations continuously shifting, it’s important to align programs with employee needs. For example, many organizations may not consider how an employee’s need for internal mobility may differ depending on their career stage. Or they may not consider how to design talent programs that allow employees to feel comfortable expressing, and acting on, a desire to be considered for other opportunities. As organizations review and refresh internal mobility programs, they must also assess pay structures so employees can align their compensation with their growth and progression in the company.

3

Identify employees’ potential. Organizations often operate under the false assumption that they simply “don’t have the right talent” to fill roles internally. Leaders often spend more time creating competencies that outline what skills employees demonstrate after they are in a role rather than analyzing people’s potential before they are in a job. Instead, Harvard Business Review recommends that leaders should assess why certain employees are successful as a way to define high-potential employees in their organization. This view can be shared across departments so that company-wide leadership can identify potential, and which employees are ripe for new challenges. 

4

Remove opportunity barriers. Make it easy for employees to know what new roles and opportunities exist and build processes that help employees take advantage of the opportunities. This includes encouraging internal networking, streamlining internal hiring procedures, and removing barriers for transitioning from one role to another. After all, employees often want immediate change, which is what they get when they move to another company. Organizations should also communicate the value proposition of an internal opportunity. Is it a raise? A new title? A bump in level? Or just different work? This information should be clear so that employees know they are investing their time in a sound opportunity that can fulfill their expectations. 

5

Tell employees what you see in them. Leaders and managers must communicate openly with employees about the potential they see in them. Leaders typically talk about their succession plans for high performers in isolation or very infrequently, maybe only once or twice a year during performance reviews. With infrequent communication, leaders miss the opportunity to continuously let employees know the organization values them as contributors and future leaders. Absent this feedback, employees may look to opportunities at other organizations because they feel unappreciated or undervalued.  

Internal mobility isn’t a new concept—but it is newly important. Companies that proactively help employees move into new roles within their company will be best conditioned to win this long and grueling race for talent, and gain a competitive edge.