Corporate Careers: How Employees Get Stuck…and How to Help Them

By Mimi Brent

My career in the corporate world started out in an unusual way. I had my career completely planned in the second grade. My best friend Mary Beth and I decided we were going to be teachers. We were so passionate about being teachers that we often climbed into the school dumpster to pull out discarded teacher supplies which we used to play school in my basement. That dream quickly ended upon entering college as we learned thousands of teachers nationwide had just been laid off (victims of declining enrollments and recession-pinched school budgets). I spontaneously decided to major in Political Science (Pre-Law). I lived in a town filled with law offices. Studying to be an attorney seemed like the practical thing to do. That decision lasted until I received my first law textbook. After reading the first page over and over again I decided I did not want to be a lawyer. My parents encouraged me to read the university program book cover to cover and find something I would enjoy doing. Panic turned to excitement when I discovered I could actually get a degree in writing (another passion). I changed my major to Communication Arts & Sciences the next day and began exploring a career in journalism. Happily that led me to my corporate career!

Two summer internships and a co-op position with General Motors (GM) Communications during college gave me a taste of corporate life and I became addicted to it. I piled on extra classes my final two semesters so I could finish school and get a full time job. The day I finalized my resume, GM announced it was planning to close 11 plants affecting 29,000 workers in the mid-west. The only GM offer I received (and quickly accepted) was from GMAC corporate headquarters (a subsidiary at the time) who wanted to hire a writer they could develop into a training manager.

How Easy It Is to Get “Stuck”
Since then, my career has included multiple roles, incredible experiences, a few more economic downturns, and only feeling “stuck” a few times along the way. Through my work leading corporate learning and HR strategic initiatives, I have interacted with enough employees to see how they get stuck and unstuck. While multiple factors can cause employees to get “stuck” in their current role, many find themselves struggling with answering these questions:

  • What do I want to do next?
  • Who can I ask for guidance?
  • What development do I need to get there?

Young adults often seek guidance from family, friends and academic advisors who help formulate career goals and develop a plan to achieve them. Why does this become more difficult for some people as they progress on their career journeys? Employees often share these challenges as some of the reasons for getting “stuck” in their careers:

  • Lack of time to focus on career/personal development due to increasing workload and family responsibilities
  • Finding the right people who can advise them (or unsure of how to approach others for career advice)
  • Unaware of professional development resources and career paths that are available within their organization
  • Unstable economic/business conditions
  • Fear of retribution for exploring career opportunities outside their current work group
  • Lack of knowledge regarding career development best practices (resume, networking, interviewing, etc.)

Unsticking Careers with Corporate Career Resources
Organizations are learning that employees “stuck” in their careers become disengaged. These disengaged employees can negatively impact engaged team members and ultimately a company’s bottom line. Just as educational institutions compete to offer students the best career resource centers on campus, organizations need to offer early, mid and late career employees innovative career resources to attract, develop and retain the best talent.

Keeping Millennials Motivated and On the Move
To attract, motivate and retain top millennial talent, early career development programs need to include well-defined and communicated experiences, attractive educational opportunities exclusive to program participants and exposure to senior leaders in the organization. Assigning experienced employee mentors to program participants helps early career individuals adapt more easily to an organization’s culture and builds relationships across workforce generations.

Helping Mid-Career and Late-Career Talent Reinvent Their Careers
Addressing the career development needs of mid-career and late-career employees (especially those managing the Millennials) is also critical to the health of an organization. Providing these employees career resources such as assessments, mentoring, career planning and discussion tools, webinars, networking events, and designated times throughout the year to focus on career demonstrates an organization’s commitment to career development. Helping employees rediscover their strengths and get excited about what they want to do next is a win for employees and the organization. Employees moving within or even out of an organization increases movement in the organization’s talent pipeline.

Career Building with Conversations
Helping leaders recognize the importance of informal, frequent career conversations with their employees is critical to the success of a corporate career development program. Encouraging leaders to delegate more of their projects, tasks and meetings to subordinates and to share their employees with other leaders in the organization builds both leadership capability and relationships.

Communication and Community Involvement is Key
Keeping career resources simple, intuitive and effective increases usage by busy employees. Deploying employee surveys can help determine what to add, update and delete to enhance career resources over time. Communicating new resources using a variety of methods (email, intranet site ads, internal social media tools, signage, staff meeting presentations, and employee orientation days) is critical to growing usage. Involving employees and leaders in the resource development process up front provides a sense of ownership and also increases acceptance.

The important task for a corporate career services provider is to acknowledge that there are always employees in the organization who are stuck. Likewise there are ways to help these employees become unstuck. Offering innovative career resources in the workplace encourages ongoing career exploration and increases employee engagement.


To learn more about this topic, attend the NCDA Global Career Development Conference presentation #207 “Corporate Careers: How Employees Get Stuck and How to Help Them” Tuesday, June 30, 2015 at 4:35-5:45 pm, Denver, CO.


Mimi BrentMimi Brent has been leading GM’s new global career development initiatives since 2012.   She is currently engaging with HR teams, global business units, GM employees and multiple vendors to build a global best career development resource network to help employees grow their GM careers.  Mimi has over 25 years of experience leading corporate learning and HR strategic initiatives.  She is a member of the National Career Development Association (NCDA).  Connect with Mimi on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/mimi-brent/14/878/661


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1 Comment

Lorene Goins, MAEd, GDCF   on Sunday 06/07/2015 at 02:55 PM

Love your article because it addressed all phases of work development. I have long thought that the mid-career and older have been overlooked with some much attention given to the early career folks. The good news is the Boomer generation is redefining the later years and I look forward to more career development engagement with them as I progress in my career.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.