The Decline of Vertical Career Paths: A Shift Towards Horizontal Growth - American Society of Employers - Anthony Kaylin

EverythingPeople this week!

EverythingPeople gives valuable insight into the developments both inside and outside the HR position.

Latest Articles

The Decline of Vertical Career Paths: A Shift Towards Horizontal Growth

In the past, a vertical progression was the ideal career path for many, especially when it came to salary increases and standards of expected living.  Today, the tides have changed.  Many employees don’t want to become managers.  In fact, often, organizations don’t particularly support their managers.  If bad times occur, managers are often the first to be blamed and could be the first out the door. 

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously deemed 2023 the “year of efficiency.” Zuckerberg called out the inefficiencies within his organization, which was also happening at other large tech companies, stating, “I don’t think you want a management structure that’s just managers managing managers, managing managers, managing managers, managing the people who are doing the work.”  He was suggesting being more agile at work and having a flatter structure, thinking it would force more collaboration by breaking down silos. 

An MIT study has shown that managers are not supported well in their jobs.  Further, if there are problems, regardless of cause, managers are generally to blame.  So why would employees want to be managers?

The issue for employers is the same issue in making managers, let’s take the best and make them managers. Yet by giving them a management position, you take a talented professional away from what they do well.  And it may take them away from doing what they love, to doing something they have to tolerate (plus still have the responsibility for before), often causing burnout.   

Many workers today see that issue.  Their eyes are open.  A recent Randstad Workmonitor survey found that although 56% of workers worldwide consider themselves to be ambitious, although 47% say they’re not focused on progression or climbing the ladder at their jobs.  According to the survey, it appears that the term “ambition” is changing meanings.  The survey suggests that “ambition” means work-life balance, flexibility, equity, belonging, and upskilling. These factors are central to employee decision making. 

Specifically, the study found that “47% of respondents said they’re willing to stay in a role they like, even if there’s no room to progress or develop. In addition, 34% said they never want to take on a managerial role.  Instead, workers are more likely to value work-life balance (93%), schedule flexibility (81%), and mental health support (83%) over career ambition (70%). In addition, 72% of employees noted the importance of training and development opportunities. Nearly a third said they’d quit a job if they weren’t offered opportunities to “future-proof” their skills, such as training around AI.”

So how should employers respond when employees do not want to take a vertical step in the organization ladder?  Although the C Suite is subject to the extreme pressures of short-term profitability and productivity, these pressures are becoming the antithesis to increased productivity and employee loyalty.  A recent Gallup poll shows that only 32% of employees are engaged with work – and it’s declining.  Specifically, engagement for those under age 35 (young millennials and Gen Zers) decreased by four points and active disengagement in this same group increased by four points compared with before the pandemic. The study showed that “engagement among older workers (those 35 years and older) decreased by two points and the percentage actively disengaged in this group increased by one point.”

Gallup recommends that in order to increase engagement, organizations must use “their organizational culture and values to guide business decisions, embracing flexible and hybrid work while maintaining strong connections between managers and employees – keeping performance, collaboration, employee wellbeing, and the customer at the center of how work gets done. And most importantly, equip managers with the skills and tools to have ongoing meaningful conversations with employees. 

The world of work is not returning to pre-pandemic practices.  Employers need to allow employee flexibility and greater opportunities for promotions, although through a career matrix rather than a career ladder.  Further, employers need to provide greater resources into middle management to understand and respond appropriately to manage in the new environment, from training and more training to better tools to do their jobs.  Finally, HR should review their pay structure and reconsider pay groupings that emphasize employee growth while thinking lattice rather than a ladder approach to careers. 


Source:  Forbes 1/19/2024, MIT Sloan 1/1/2023, Korn Ferry, HR Dive 1/22/2024


Filter by Authors

Position your organization to THRIVE.

Become a Member Today