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By Deirdre Pickerell, Ph.D., CHRP, GCDF-i

Human resources professionals are the lifeblood of any organization. In this knowledge economy, HR is tasked with managing an organization’s most valuable commodity – its people.

HR professionals often need to be recruiters, marketers, coaches and counsellors; as more organizations seek to embrace a career development culture, HR is tasked with that, too. Yet, how many HR professionals take time to pause and reflect on their career engagement?

Different from employee engagement, which generally focuses on the relationship employees have with their employers, career engagement focuses on the relationship individuals have with their careers. Optimal career engagement is realized when challenge and capacity are in balance. However, when there is too little challenge for the available capacity, individuals can begin to feel underutilized. When there is too much challenge for the available capacity, individuals begin to feel overwhelmed. Without correction, full disengagement, and all it brings, occurs. By identifying two routes to disengagement – either through being overwhelmed or underutilized – the career engagement model offers an important framework for career conversations, and for considering interventions aimed at re-engaging workers.

To begin, HR professionals may wish to explore how engaged they are with their own careers. Has their level of passion, excitement and energy stayed the same? Increased? Diminished? Is there the right level of challenge and sufficient capacity (e.g., time, money, resources, skills) to deal with those challenges? If yes, great news! Stay the course, but check in often to ensure changing circumstances aren’t negatively impacting opportunities for career engagement. If no, reflect on whether there is too much or too little challenge, resulting in either feeling overwhelmed or underutilized; then, identify realistic solutions.

For example, as it can often be difficult to reduce the level of challenge, it may be necessary to increase capacity instead. However, remember that capacity relates to both individuals and organizations and in the career engagement model, career is broadly defined (i.e., it is more than just work). If the organization can’t help increase capacity, consider whether personal supports (e.g., family) can help; reducing the pressures at home can help to “free up” the capacity needed to deal with increasing challenges at work.

HR professionals can also consider these 10 strategies to maximize career engagement – both for themselves and for the employees they work so hard to support:

1. Provide motivating work
2. Offer meaningful opportunities
3. Recognize the importance of “work fit”
4. Equip supervisors to support employees’ careers
5. Strengthen co-worker relationships
6. Provide relevant resources
7. Continuously monitor alignment
8. Facilitate work-life balance
9. Respect work-life boundaries
10. Align challenge and capacity

Whether reflecting on their own careers or helping others, HR professionals are encouraged to consider career engagement, remembering that disengagement occurs in two distinctly different directions – through feeling overwhelmed or underutilized. Knowing the route to disengagement is key to designing interventions and/or organizational supports.

Deirdre Pickerell, PhD, CHRP, GCDF-i has over 20 years’ experience in the fields of career development, adult education, and human resource management. Dr. Pickerell is co-developer of the career engagement model and recently completed her doctoral research focusing on career engagement among Canadian career development practitioners. She is the 2014 recipient of the Stu Conger Award for Leadership in Career Development and Career Counselling

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