Employee Development

Drivers of upward mobility at work

In this article, we outline the three drivers of upward mobility at work and five ways to strengthen it.

Ryan Carruthers

Published on 

August 16, 2022

Updated on 

Time to Read

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There is nothing quite as frustrating as staying in one position year after year. Everyone wants to develop both personally and professionally. It is, however, up to HR or managers to create avenues that support and encourage upward mobility at work.

In this article, we will explain what upward mobility is within the context of the workplace. We want to highlight the key drivers of employee upward mobility at work. Also, we will provide actionable tips for HR teams to support employee development. 

What is upward mobility?

Upward mobility is the movement of individuals or groups upward through a system of social hierarchy. It usually involves a change in social class. 

For instance, an industrial worker becoming a wealthy business owner has moved upward economically. In this context, an employee moving to a higher position in the same company is experiencing upward mobility.

The opposite, downward mobility, is for someone moving down the career ladder. 

Why is upward mobility important to employee development?

With upward mobility, employees grow and advance in their careers. Below are three reasons for the importance of upward mobility. 

Providing opportunities for employees from diverse backgrounds

Most people believe the US provides extraordinary upward mobility opportunities. 

However, data has shown that parental wealth has a key role. This equally applies to Germany and Sweden, where parental wealth is a private safety net that no generous European public programs and social services can match. 

Employees from more diverse and poorer backgrounds experience more barriers to advancement. 

Therefore, upward mobility is important in workplaces as it levels the playing field and gives others the chance to advance regardless of their backgrounds. 

Strengthening retention rates

When employees are given opportunities to grow and progress in their career with an organization, they are less likely to leave or want to. 

Employers that support upward mobility improve retention. Their workplaces produce engaged employees that are more productive and skilled.

Building future leaders internally

Upward mobility makes it possible to build leaders internally by developing existing employees. 

This is commonly referred to as a high potential development program. High potential programs show employees they can move up the corporate ladder. 

The company-nurtured leaders can, in turn, become future mentors for junior employees and help them up.

Examples of initiatives to support upward mobility

For the organization Marriott, employees experience mobility in two ways. Transfers from one job or role to another and moves from smaller properties to larger ones, which usually includes a change in location, function or brand or a combination of all three. 

This type of internal mobility has been a source of stability and high performance for the Marriot. Mobility is also a key retention strategy for Marriott because employees develop their skills and knowledge and are motivated to perform better because of their upward move.  

UnitedHealth Group is another organization making calculated moves to increase employee development. One way they do this is by developing talent internally via between-business mobility. 

When an organization assesses its talent pipeline, it may discover gaps, such as a lack of knowledge of global markets or technical expertise. Location mobility may serve the former, while a function change solves the latter. 

3 drivers of upward mobility at work

Beyond retention, upward mobility puts employees in charge of their career trajectory. By cultivating a continuous learning environment, you are telling employees you care about their growth and development. 

Here are 3 drivers of upward mobility in the workplace.

1. Relationships

In the research paper titled “Social Capital I: Measurement and Associations with Economic Mobility,” the authors found that children who have social interactions with friends from higher-income families eventually had higher incomes themselves. 

This applies to the workforce too. 

To achieve career growth, you need to build on existing relationships and cultivate new ones. 

There might be new openings coming up in a different department you are interested in. By networking internally, you can help your coworkers understand your goal and interests. 

You are likely to come first in their mind when they spot a new internal opportunity. Also, in demonstrating your ability to take initiative by interacting with employees, hiring managers have a good idea of your ability and can recommend you for future roles.

2. Soft skills and managing up

By managing up, you develop a productive relationship with employees in upper management positions in your organization. 

It could be the manager you report to or often have to work with. Managing up entails adjusting to your boss’s style of decision-making and management, offering important feedback respectfully while being conscious of company culture. 

3. Hard skills and knowledge sharing

An employee's ability to share knowledge and coach others sets them apart. Taking initiative, networking and becoming an asset to the organization helps a person move up the career ladder. 

Our report on mentoring and coaching showed that 71% of the organizations under study encourage employees to seek mentors and coaches.

How do you encourage upward mobility in your workplace?

Upward mobility is essential to an organization’s employee development plan. 

Equip your HR or management teams with the resources to recruit an internal talent pool for leadership openings. 

Below, we discuss some ways you can encourage upward mobility.

Build employee mentorship programs

Starting an impactful mentoring program is an effective way of encouraging upward mobility in your workplace. 

It is a way of nurturing and developing talent within your organization. You ultimately reduce turnover, establish a learning culture, and encourage innovation and creativity. 

People see your company as a desirable place to work because mentoring improves morale through relationship building and also fosters social connections.

Encourage knowledge sharing

Internal hiring has increased by 19%, according to a LinkedIn report. This means companies are focusing more on internal mobility and development. When you have a new hire, it is only wise that you establish a knowledge-sharing avenue to prepare them for internal openings. 

By encouraging knowledge sharing, you not only give them a chance to learn from others but also create a strong connection among employees. They also get the chance to regularly up-skill. 

Build individualized employee development plans

Companies should upgrade their employee development plan to build skills they require internally instead of searching externally. 

Everyone should be allowed to build their dreams around the organization and have channels to achieve them. Individualized employee development should align with organizational and personal goals. 

This increases engagement and builds a learning culture. 

Internal mobility programs

One way to get top performers to stick around is constant growth. 

Instead of looking outside for talent, look within your company. You will most likely find the skills you need or people willing to take on the challenge. 

Employees want to grow, and if you give them an opportunity to do that, they are less likely to job hop. Internal mobility programs are sure ways to leverage the existing strength you have in your organization. 

Invest in employee development

Employee development is important for successful organizations. If you want to experience growth and consistently excellent results, invest in your employees’ development. 

You can reskill and upskill your employees to prepare them for the future of your company. Some ways to go about employee development programs include orientation and onboarding, training, coaching and mentoring, career planning, etc. 

Wrapping up: breaking glass ceilings

With internal mobility, employees finally stand the chance to move up the corporate ladder without attention to their diverse backgrounds. Internal mobility is thus breaking glass ceilings and helping employers create an inclusive workplace

Together is a mentoring software you can leverage to run smooth and successful mentorship programs as part of your upward mobility program. 

With our intelligent matching algorithm, you can find the best person for each employee to learn from. All you need to do is choose a plan that would work for your company. You can also run a free test or request a demo to get a feel of how Together works.

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