How Can Managers Assist Employees in their Career Development?

Role of Managers in Employee Career Development

Career development is a lifelong journey full of challenges and opportunities. Many changes occur as one walks through the career path and these changes may threaten progress or even halt a person’s career altogether. Employees face numerous challenges that may hinder their pursuit of career goals. For example, advancement in technology or the rise in the degree of automation in an organization may render some employees unqualified to continue working unless they upgrade their skills. In addition, work arrangements are increasingly changing and many employees now work parallel contract jobs rather than permanent employment, meaning employees may lose career focus and fail to realize their full potential (Bickel, 2008, p. 120). Furthermore, the growing diversity at the workplace especially in the globalized world of the 21st century that brings people from different races and cultures together poses serious challenges such as conflicts of values that may hinder career development at the individual level and performance at an organizational level. Moreover, the pressing needs of employees vary significantly with age, gender, and minority status, yet policies for addressing these needs lack the necessary differentiation to meet the needs satisfactorily (Sangganjanavanich & Headley, 2013, p. 364). The present paper argues that managers can help employees to overcome many of the challenges highlighted here and succeed in their careers.

Historical and Legal Context of Employee Career Development

The role of managers in employee career development has been described in different legal and organizational policy contexts. To start with, organizations across the world have been conducting employee career development mainly within the context of coaching. According to Spaten & Flensborg (2008, p. 19), two types of coaching exist within organizations: managerial coaching and employee coaching. Managerial coaching is a learning interaction between top executives and external consultants whose goal is to improve the competency and performance of the manager. Managerial coaching is typically a short-term relationship. Employee coaching is an arrangement whereby a line manager works closely with an employee to develop the employee’s potential and meet his or her career development needs. Employee coaching is a long-term relationship in which the manager assesses the performance of the employee, identifies and responds to the needs of the employee, and provides feedback in the form of performance data as he or she guides the employee towards higher levels of performance and preparedness for future responsibilities (Spaten & Flensborg, 2008, p. 20). Employee coaching relies on feedback as a guide for better planning and goal setting, which are essential for career growth.

Besides employee coaching, numerous sources of authority within the state and international realms have set standards to guide managers as they respond to specific categories of employee career development needs. For example, work-life balance policies have been introduced in the past two decades in many countries in Europe and the rest of the developed world to help employees to manage family and work responsibilities in a healthy manner (Gregory & Milner, 2009, p. 1). The main goal of work-life balance policies in the international scene is to promote women’s participation in labor markets. Many states across the world recognize paid or unpaid parental leave and firms are obliged to follow state guidelines in such matters. However, strict state regulation of work-life balance practices of firms is lacking since the state has to rely on the organizations’ perception of the benefits of such policies (Lewis & Campbell, 2008, p. 525). Nevertheless, many professional women have expressed interest in reducing their working hours and finding a flexible work schedule as state support for such arrangements increases. Line managers are responsible for aligning the family-work balance needs of their employees with organizational goals to maintain organizational performance and the growth of individual employees (Dick & Hyde, 2006, p. 346).

Other organizational policy instruments and standards for guiding managers in responding to the needs of certain categories of employees include the Competencies for Counseling with Transgender Clients (CCCs) and the Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People (SOC) (Sangganjanavanich & Headley, 2013, p. 355). These guidelines were designed to guide career counselors and employers in supporting sexual minorities to overcome the main challenges facing their career development such as workplace discrimination, stigmatization by colleagues and society, lack of family support, and difficulties involved in finding new employment.

Shortcomings in Existing Employee Career Development Efforts

Despite the existence of policies and models for guiding managers in ensuring employee development, many issues remain unsolved and problems arise at the implementation stage of both firm- and state-level policies. For example, while state work-life balance policies require employers to allow parents access to part-time work and flexible work schedules, most of the available opportunities for such arrangements are lower-paying especially for women (McBride, 2011, p. 529). Mothers who must work as they raise children are forced to take up part-time work for which they are overqualified. Progression for such women is quite difficult because they spend years working below their potential and therefore, they do not gain sufficient expertise to propel them to higher occupational levels. Managers are partly responsible for this problem because they control the opportunities available for part-time and full-time workers. Although it is understandable that higher-paying opportunities are more demanding in terms of skill and time, managers deliberately limit part-time work by marginalizing part-time employees. For example, managers reserve the best promotion and training opportunities for full-time employees by either failing to invite part-timers to attend workshops and training or scheduling the learning sessions in favor of full-timers (Dick & Hyde, 2006, p. 346). As far as promotion is concerned, managers may ignore applications from part-time employees or explicitly exclude them when advertising for opportunities. Furthermore, managers often exclude part-time employees from relationship building and networking events thus reducing their prospects of advancing in their career development.

Besides their failure to address problems associated with part-time employment, managers have failed to respond fully to the needs of minorities in their workforce. For example, most organizations are ill-prepared to deal with discrimination against sexual minorities in their workforce. Transgender employees, for instance, have no channels to voice their needs, and even when they try, most of the people and professionals they approach have little to offer due to their own discriminative attitudes or incompetence. One study found that some managers even referred to transgendered individuals as “an embarrassment” (Sangganjanavanich & Headly, 2013, p. 357).

Role of Managers

Making the Employee Coaching Model Work

The employee-coaching model provides the framework for manager-assisted career development. The model is based on the belief that line managers have the capability to help employees improve their performance and grow in their careers through one on one coaching relationships in which the manager assesses the needs of the employee and provides the feedback necessary for ongoing improvement. Managers have fallen short of realizing the benefits of this model because they lack the personal commitment to responding to the needs of employees or lack the skills necessary to do so. For example, many personal issues often arise during employee coaching and the manager is not sure whether to address such matters or maintain focus on work. According to Spaten & Flensborg (2013, p. 32), the couch ought to balance work and personal issues properly because the two sides are inseparable. However, the manager should set goals clearly to avoid delving too much into personal issues that may not necessarily relate to the employee’s career goals.

In addition, the manager should be sensitive to the potential negative effect of power play in the coaching relationship (Spaten & Flensborg, 2013, p. 33). The manager should limit his or her use of power to make and implement decisions during the process. When the employee senses that the manager is using power to drive the coaching relationship, he or she is likely to feel compelled to pursue goals that he or she does not own up to. In other words, the benefits of employee coaching depend on the quality of the interpersonal relationship between the manager and the employee. Some managers do not give their employees room to explore their abilities on their own but try to dominate decision-making throughout the process. Such an approach not only renders coaching ineffective but also pushes some employees to change jobs.

Differentiating Career Development Approaches to Address Specific Needs

Perhaps the area in which managers should improve most is adjusting their career development approaches to individual career needs and challenges. While many organizations recognize the need for ongoing workplace training and implement professional development programs routinely, such programs are generalized and target the ideal worker as described in Zacharias (2005, p. 32) who views the ideal worker as middle class, white, university graduate, and heterosexual aged less than 45 years. Zacharia believes an ideal worker is essentially a man because women are yet to break free from their traditional gendered roles of raising children. Managers who adopt Zacharias’ view of an ideal worker are that they implement career development programs that benefit a small proportion of the workforce while disregarding the needs of females, who now make up over 40 percent of the workforce in many countries, immigrants, sexual minorities, and single parents. The fact that most of the people excelling in today’s corporate world fit Zacharias’ description of an ideal worker imply that managers need to change their attitudes about workers. In addition, the fact that women are more likely to seek part-time work due to their domestic responsibilities endorses the view by most managers that women prioritize home responsibilities over career goals. Such an attitude explains why part-time employees receive lower pay and experience higher levels of marginalization as compared to their full-time counterparts (McBride, 2011, p. 529).

To address the attitude problem, managers should value all their workers equally because each has a unique strength and ability to contribute to the organization regardless of his or her cultural, gender, socioeconomic, and minority status. Managers should break free from social stereotypes that devalue certain categories of employees. To respond appropriately to the needs of women professionals, managers should appreciate and acknowledge the contribution of women to the organization instead of viewing them as less skilled or less competent (McBride, 2011, p. 33). This will break the cultural and attitudinal barriers women face at the workplace leading to improved self-esteem, confidence, sense of self-accomplishment, and prospects for advancing their careers. The training needs of all workers—both part-time and full-time, should be catered for during scheduling. Managers often design training programs that do not suit part-time workers especially when it comes to scheduling the programs (Dick & Hyde, 2006, p. 346). As a result, part-time workers often become stuck in their careers and have limited chances of reaching their full potential. Managers should consult with all employees to schedule training appropriately in order to improve the qualifications of all workers. This may include holding remedial sessions or individualized training programs if possible.

Managers can adopt an organizational culture change approach to create workplaces that support career growth for all employees, especially those vulnerable to discrimination and stigmatization. For example, managers working with sexual minorities should not only respect the social identity of their employees but also adjust the organizational environment to promote acceptance of such employees (Sangganjanavanich & Headley, 2013, p. 360). One way to accomplish this is to remain positive and welcoming to the employee and respond to his or her concerns. Line managers should acknowledge the challenges that transgender employees face at the workplace such as discrimination by colleagues, and respond by discouraging such forms of oppression using persuasion rather than force. Furthermore, line managers should learn to use appropriate language that acknowledges the different minority social identities (Sangganjanavanich & Headley, 2013, p. 361). This includes the use of gender-neutral language or appropriate terminologies when referring to people with disabilities, transgender individuals, and immigrants.

Furthermore, an appropriate response to career development needs should be based on a thorough need assessment. Though employees may share work responsibilities, gender, and minority status, their career goals vary greatly at the individual level. Managers should find out the specific areas in which each employee needs help to progress towards peak performance (Dick & Hyde, 2006, p. 358). Underemployed employees would need assistance to find job opportunities that challenge them to expand their knowledge and skills. The underpaid employees need to find better paying jobs and better employee benefits to increase their job satisfaction and improve their morale. The manager should utilize self-assessment tools and dialogue approaches to uncover the specific career challenges facing each employee and support the employee in making career decisions.


While managers play a significant role in the career development of their employees, employees, the executive management and the society have their parts to play. Employees should support managers by being open about their career goals and challenges as well as utilizing the advice and feedback they receive from their coaches to improve their performance. The managers should also conduct self-assessments to become aware of their own attitudes towards their employees and their competences in handling career development challenges. The organization’s top leadership especially the human resource management should support line managers by meeting their training needs and facilitating the cultural transformation that might be necessary to support career development. Cultural change efforts extend beyond the organization to include state policies and transnational advocacy effort


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