Retaining The Talent – Personal & Professional Development

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Throughout our lives we are faced with countless challenging decisions, many that influence the pathways we take and where we land on the career ladder. As an employer, and employee, in South Africa we are prone to focus on monetary and tangible elements in our work environment – raises, benefits, travel distance to work, working hours and more, all of which are important to consider, of course. The South African employment market is currently experiencing an economic downturn in terms of employment opportunities, bonuses, salary increases and promotion. As a professional recruiter I experience a daily stream of applications from job seekers – hundreds to be honest – with limited vacancies available. According to Statistics South Africa: “The unemployment rate in South Africa increased to 26.7 percent in the three months to March of 2016 from 24.5 percent in the previous quarter and above market expectations of 25.3 percent. It was the highest reading since September 2005, as number of unemployed rose by 10 percent whereas employment fell 2.2 percent.”

Twenty years ago the limitations in terms of placement were connected to scarce resources and shortages of skilled people, today however, we have many graduated applicants but little opportunity for employment. This in turn leads to educated applicants being unable to obtain valuable work experience and hence, not being selected for the available opportunities. Organisations have started looking for “already experienced, skilled and trained candidates” in order to cut costs in terms of training and development. The result: your most valuable and skilled employees are being poached and head-hunted and retaining the talent becomes an obstacle in itself. With the developed of professional networks such as LinkedIn and Branded.Me this has become even easier. If you are currently a member on LinkedIn you would know that the network even suggests possible job opportunities to you – even if you are not actively looking. So how do you ensure your star-players aren’t grabbed by other organisations?

Neglecting to invest in the personal and professional development of your employees can have dire consequences. Monetary incentives only provide motivation up to a certain point, thereafter factors such as cultural fit, personal growth, recognition, meaningfulness and purpose become more important. Many times we have heard employees complain that “I want to leave my company because I don’t feel like I’m growing” and “I don’t think that I make a difference anymore”. At this stage they have consciously become aware that they have stopped developing personally.

As an employer, showing interest in the professional development of an employee is an important factor to consider. Employees can become disengaged and loose drive, energy and loyalty, inevitably leading to high absenteeism, high turnover rates and an overall negative working environment, to name but a few. According to Pech and Slade (2006): “The phenomenon of employee disengagement appears to be correlated with conditions where there is a lack of psychological identification and psychological meaningfulness.” As humans we are complex and we are driven by different abilities, interests, preferences and ideas. Identifying the strengths and development areas of each employee, on both a personal and professional level, can assist you, as employer, to pin-point exactly what drives and motivates each individual employee. By identifying these motivations we can start to focus on driving performance through personal strengths and enhancing personal development through assisting the employee to address his or her development areas. Employers who are actively taking part in building a culture of engagement in their work environment will foster employee loyalty and retention when other opportunities present itself to the employees (Swindell, 2011). A personal development initiative is one way of actively taking part and investing in the development of your employees.

Investing in a Personal Development Assessment is the first step. Each personal development assessment battery should be tailored to the employee being assessed. This is based on work level, secondary purpose of the assessment i.e. succession planning, type of profession and educational background. Ordinarily an assessment battery consists standard of a personality assessment, cognitive ability assessments and a learning potential assessment. Based on the results of these assessments you can identify individual strengths and development areas. Centred on each employee’s personal assessment scores you are then able to compile a personal development plan (PDP). This is a step-by-step plan to assist the employee to identify own strengths and to be made aware of and understand his/her own development areas.

When considering using psychometric assessments to invest in your employees’ development there are some factors to keep in mind when choosing your service provider. The assessor has to be a registered Psychologist whose scope of work covers workplace assessments, to be on the safe side an Industrial Psychologist can be considered appropriate. They also have to adhere to ethically assessment practices as governed by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and other relevant South African legislation such as the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Act 108 of 1996), the Labour Relations Act (66 of 1995), the Employment Equity Act (55 of 1998) and the Health Professions Act (56 of 1974).

Ethically, this makes sense to both the organisation and the employee, as each employee being assessed is allowed to drive their own development and growth and the PDP is tailored to the individual and not a group. As an employer, Personal Development Assessments are ideal for succession planning, talent management, retention and identifying the diamond-in-the-rough. For the employee, these assessments are ideal for career guidance, study guidance, overall personal development and promotes feelings of importance and recognition. According to Solomon and Sandhya (2010) investing in your employees’ development and growth directly influences a decrease in absenteeism and leads to increased levels of employee engagement and loyalty. In short – a little investment can go a long way…


Pech, R. & Slade, B. (2006). Employee disengagement: is there evidence of a growing problem? Handbook of Business Strategy, 7(1), 21 – 25.

Swindall, C. (2011). Engaged Leadership: Building a Culture to Overcome Employee Disengagement, (2nded.) (pp. 3-7) Cintro Publishers.

Markos, S. & Sridevi, M. S. (2010). Employee Engagement: The Key to Improving Performance. International Journal of Business and Management, 5(12), 89 – 96.


About the Author:

Marilize De Witt is a registered Industrial Psychologist at Africorp Solutions and Advisory who specialises in placements, selection assessments, employee development assessments and team cohesion workshops.
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