ARLINGTON, VA, October 27, 2014 — Career management programs are supposed to help employees understand advancement opportunities and chart career paths with their organizations. However, research from global professional services company Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW) reveals that employers and employees alike agree that career management programs are largely failing to meet these goals. This finding comes at a time when many employees believe their careers are stuck in neutral and say they would need to leave their employer to advance their careers.

According to the Towers Watson Global Workforce Study, less than half of all employees (46%) and only 59% of high-potential employees — a group that employers should be working hard to keep — say that their organization provides useful career planning tools. An even smaller group (42%) report that their employer provides advancement opportunities. Furthermore, roughly four in 10 employees believe they would have to join another company in order to advance their careers.

Employers for their part also recognize that their career management programs are falling short. The Towers Watson Talent Management and Rewards Survey reveals that less than half of employers (49%) say they are effective at providing traditional career advancement opportunities, while an even smaller group (38%) report they are effective at providing nontraditional career development opportunities. However, employers rank career management opportunities as the number one reason that employees would join a company, ahead of base salary and challenging work.

“Many companies are failing to see the big picture when it comes to career management programs and are in danger of losing some of their best talent,” said Renée Smith, a Talent and Rewards director at Towers Watson. “The lack of career advancement opportunities is the number two reason that employees leave an organization. Pay is the number one reason.  At a time when hiring and turnover are increasing, and employers are experiencing problems attracting and retaining talent, employers need to understand the importance of providing career advancement opportunities. Currently, their programs are coming up short.”

In a newly published paper, “Career Management: Making It Work for Employees and Employers,” Smith says that while it might seem simple enough to organize jobs, provide career planning tools, define competencies and communicate opportunities, the reality of building an effective career management program is more complicated. Smith points to several challenges identified in the Talent Management and Rewards Survey that employers face in developing and delivering effective programs:

  • Career architectures and paths are poorly defined. Less than half of employers (48%) report their organizations have career architectures (or formalized frameworks) and career paths in place.
  • Managers are ill equipped to deliver. Only one-third of employers (33%) say managers are effective at conducting career development discussions as part of the performance management process.
  • Technology is not effectively leveraged for career management. Less than half of employers (45%) make effective use of technology to deliver career advancement programs.
  • Most organizations don’t know if their programs are working. Only one in four respondents (27%) monitors the effectiveness of their career management programs.

Smith says there are other factors contributing to this challenge. “Information related to career management is often communicated in a disjointed manner. In some organizations, different parts of HR own different elements of the career management process without clear accountability or partnership. Additionally, organizations may lack the business buy-in for career management programs, which can make career management the sole domain of HR. Given this situation, it’s critical for employers to step back and think through how to best design, deliver and measure an effective and integrated career management program,” said Smith.

About the Surveys

The Towers Watson Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey was conducted from April to June 2014 and includes responses from 1,637 companies worldwide, including 337 companies from the U.S. The participants represent a wide range of industries and geographic regions.

The Towers Watson Global Workforce Study covers more than 32,000 employees, including 6,014 from the U.S., selected from research panels that represent the populations of full-time employees working in large and midsize organizations across a range of industries in 26 markets around the world. It was fielded online during April and May 2014.

About Towers Watson

Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW) is a leading global professional services company that helps organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management. The company offers consulting, technology and solutions in the areas of benefits, talent management, rewards, and risk and capital management. Towers Watson has more than 14,000 associates around the world and is located on the web at