The COVID-19 effect on career development: Forward, backward, or stalled?


Doodle reports 36% polled said their career is progressing forward during the pandemic, but 5% more describe it as stalled amid job uncertainty. Could better mentorship be the balm?

Image: iStockphoto/AndreyPopov

The employees polled for the Doodle’s Career Development in a Pandemic report are grateful to still be employed as the pandemic rages on, but the fear of being made redundant constantly looms over them. Even during the COVID-19 crisis, as many industries face the grim reality of layoffs becoming permanent, most people with jobs in technology are not only working, but continue to be in demand.

A large portion of the enterprise shifted to remote work in mid-March (at least, those whose work allowed it and was suitable for it). The six months into the strongly recommended sheltering-at-home has been a burr in the side of those anxious to climb the proverbial corporate ladder, or just advance and be promoted. Forty-one percent of those polled by Doodle described their coronavirus-era career development as “stalled,” and 9% said their careers have regressed during the mandated isolation from their teams, managers, and offices. 

For the glass half-full crowd, 36% of respondents (not that much less than those at the other end of the spectrum) report their careers have actually progressed during quarantine. Notably, as lockdown restrictions are slowly being lifted throughout the country–despite COVID-19’s continued spread–advancements are more within those ambitious employees’ reach.  

There are employment opportunities, too: Amazon lists nearly 168,000 jobs and Home Depot has 24,500 postings for jobs.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Mentors: Necessary for collegial office culture, more

Active mentorship has been proven to foster strong emotional bonds between supervisor and employee, help a company’s reputation, and slow down job turnover rates–notably common in the tech industry.

Employees polled during the pandemic for another study cited weekly one-on-one meetings with their team leaders as necessary for them to feel connected to their job, know their work is being acknowledged, and that they are a valuable asset to the company. A mentorship that forms between a more senior employee and staff can help “employees reach their professional development goals, become contenders for promotions, and advance in their careers,” Doodle’s report noted.

Mentorships–or at least using this terminology, which may have once referred to the junior staffer as a “protegee”–are not a new concept. What was once referred to as a boss/employee support system reserved for newer employees who had some special “in” with the company (a kind of nepotism) is now recommended throughout a company, between a leader and team member. 

Mentors are of particular value while the office is working-from-home, yet 56% of those polled said they do not receive any form of mentorship in their current job, and 49% said they don’t feel they’re getting enough coaching. 

Doodle asked the question, “Has mentorship from your manager become more important to you during the pandemic?” and received a split 50/50, yes/no.

Compared to before the pandemic, 30% of respondents said during the crisis their bosses are less accessible to them and “uncertainty breeds fear among people,” the report noted. Fear of being made redundant, not knowing how they’re doing, or what’s happening at the company or with the higher ups are the result of poor communication that may evolve into panic and frustration. One-on-ones on a weekly or even bi-weekly basis are essential. Managers were more accessible for 25% and 45% reported no change between pre-pandemic and now. 

For the second quarter of 2020, virtual one-on-one meetings jumped 136%, the report showed. While the one-on-one component matches what’s needed for mentorship, respondents also said it drained them and the many Google meetings and Zoom meetings in which they’re looking at their colleagues and themselves seems unnatural–the report refers to this as “Zoom fatigue.”

According to a Gartner report, nearly three in four CFOs and finance leaders plan to shift at least 5% of pre-pandemic previously on-site employees to WFH after the pandemic. Organizations in general have seen productivity rise, said the report.

The critical value of the 1:1 meeting

Sixty-six percent said that their boss hasn’t scheduled more 1:1 meetings since the COVID-19 lockdown, while 34% said they had.

Primary mode of pandemic communication with the boss:

  • 42% e-mail
  • 26% phone
  • 21% employee communication tools
  • 10% video conference/online meetings

Frequency of 1:1 meetings (considered critical for career development) scheduled by the boss:

  • 18% once a week
  • 14% twice a week
  • 15% once every two weeks
  • 11% once a month
  • 21% rarely
  • 20% never

In those 1:1 meetings, respondents stated what they liked least: 12% boss is in control of discussion, 9% boss doesn’t ask for opinions or feedback, 7% don’t feel comfortable discussing goals, 16% dislike the standardized discussion as too one-size-fits-all, 9% said meetings lack focus, 7% said it was difficult to get feedback needed to complete projects/hit KPIs, while 35% said there was nothing they disliked.

In those 1:1 meetings, respondents stated what they liked most: 13% have more control over discussion points, 19% have different topics in each meeting, 8% feel comfortable discussing my career development goals, 10% meetings are focused and productive, 21% like when the boss asks for their opinion, 12% get feedback needed to complete projects/hit KPIs, 3% said other, and 14% said they didn’t like anything.

Forty-seven percent said they didn’t have full access to their manager’s calendar, and 53% said they do.

How employees book a 1:1 with bosses:

  • 54% send email, ask availability, wait for response and send calendar invite
  • 12% send message via Slack/Yammer/Jive, wait for response and send calendar invite
  • 13% send calendar invite through Gmail or Office 365
  • 13% book meetings directly through communication tools
  • 8% use an online scheduling tool/app

What’s more important for employees to get in 1:1 for a meeting with the boss:

  • 32% clear direction and responsibility
  • 15% actionable feedback on projects
  • 15% guidance and support for career development goals
  • 21% two-way dialogue and feedback
  • 13% doesn’t matter
  • 3% other

Even though business pros spend five hours waiting to speak to colleagues who can help them move forward with a current project, 92% said that tech is essential to do their job efficiently, and increases job satisfaction.

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