Why Practicing Career Management Is Essential for Employees

By Seamus Roddy / 16 December 2020

Career management is essential to achieving professional success. Workers should have a career management plan that plans for the possibility of burnout, job loss, pay reductions, and providing childcare, according to our survey of 501 U.S. employees. Employees who practice career management will better handle the challenges of the COVID-19 business environment.

Michelle Fishburne didn’t think it would be so hard.

In February 2020, Fishburne was laid off from her public relations job at a nonprofit. She made immediate plans to attend the SXSW EDU Conference in Austin, where she intended to network her way into a new job.

Then, the world froze.

The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered businesses and paused most hiring. It also put virtually all in-person networking on hold. Fishburne, who has a law degree and 30 years of professional experience, instead sent customized cover letters and resumes to 86 different employers. She did not receive a single job offer.

Fishburne is far from the only person who struggled with career setbacks in 2020. In fact, most employees (55%) found it challenging to be professionally successful in the past 6 months.

55% of people found it more challenging to be professionally successful in the past 6 months.

Professionally successful people do interesting, fulfilling work while gradually earning more responsibility and a higher salary. To become professionally successful, employees practice career management, which involves intentionally managing time, resources, and expectations to achieve certain professional goals.

For employees, career management is essential, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Workers are facing issues such as burnout, technology changes, finding childcare, and pay reductions.

Fishburne’s challenge was job loss, and she responded by starting her own photojournalism project to keep her skills sharp while looking for a new full-time role.

Like Fishburne, many savvy workers are adjusting to the difficult business environment by thoughtfully managing their careers.

Why Is Practicing Career Management Essential?

  • 30% of people have experienced burnout this year, which reduces motivation and success.
  • 17% of people worked longer hours this year, which suggests that employees must make an intentional attempt to have work-life boundaries, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 11% of employees had challenges adjusting to new technology at work this year, indicating that people who successfully manage a career learn how to work with new technology.
  • 7% of people have had difficulty providing childcare this year, highlighting how deciding to have a family is a career management decision for successful professionals.
  • 9% of employees had their pay reduced this year, demonstrating how fulfilled professionals are comfortable adjusting their career management plans and advocating for themselves in the workplace.
  • 5% of people lost their job this year, which indicates that employees do not plan to stay in the same job or at the same company for an entire career.

1. Risk of Burnout

The signs of burnout glow brightly: missed meetings, blown deadlines, falling behind on work, losing interest in advancement, and overall exhaustion are all indicative of an employee who is mentally fried and unlikely to remain motivated and successful.

The possibility of burnout is a reason that practicing career management is important for employees.

In the past year, 30% of employees have experienced lower motivation because of burnout.

30% of employees experienced burnout this year.

Experts say that burnout is especially common during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In a pandemic world, burnout is common as everyone is working from home and there is a constant blurring of the line between working and living,” said Brett Kaufman, founder and chief executive of Kaufman Development, a real estate development company. “It’s easy to get distracted and find that work has lost meaning or, even worse, has begun to seem inescapable.”

To avoid burnout, Kaufman says that employees should use career management. For example, Kaufman considers focusing on wellness and physical activity to be a career investment, as physical and mental health allow people to do better work.

Kaufman also says that employees should schedule time away from work devices and work responsibilities. During work from home, especially, employees sometimes struggle to set boundaries around their workday and continue to answer emails and work on long-term projects well past standard working hours.

Kaufman believes that employees who do not practice the personal wellness component of career management will eventually lose motivation, excitement, and success.

Women At More Risk of Burnout

Women have to work hard to find success in the business world, and they also have to work hard to avoid succumbing to burnout.

More women (37%) than men (28%) have experienced burnout in the past year.

Who Feels Less Motivated at Work Because of Burnout?

Experts believe that the stressors that cause burnout, especially in the midst of a global pandemic, are more likely to be experienced by women.

Nicole Arzt, a licensed marriage and family therapist and a mental health content expert
for Invigor Medical, says that the normal guards against burnout, such as getting enough rest and taking breaks throughout the day, are especially challenging during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has altered our usual coping skills,” Arzt said. “We can’t just decompress at the end of the day with our friends over drinks.”

The pandemic has altered our usual coping skills. We can’t just decompress at the end of the day with our friends over drinks.

Arzt says that childcare, new work arrangements, and domestic responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of elderly parents are all more stressful during the pandemic.

Since these responsibilities are more likely to be borne by women, it is no surprise that women are more likely to feel burned out.

Professional women, in particular, must set clear boundaries and guard against taking on so many responsibilities that they become demotivated.

2. Challenges of Working Long Hours

Working hard may be a key to success, but working excessive overtime can be a pathway to exhaustion.

Employees must intentionally and effectively plan their working hours to avoid long and unsustainable work hours.

The challenges of longer working hours were an issue for 17% of employees in the past year.

17% of employees worked longer hours this year.

Experts say that keeping working hours in check has been difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ben Goodey, marketing lead at SentiSum, a chatbot company, attributes working longer hours to the challenges of working from his bedroom.

“I'm always available before and after typical working hours. There have been ups and downs to working extra hours—I've never been so productive—however, I often struggle to sleep and feel overwhelmed and my soul feels a little unnurtured,” Goodey said.

Goodey has managed his career and his time by identifying strict “cut-off times” after which he will not complete or review work.

Other employees plan their working hours even more specifically. At Stealth Agents, a consulting firm for small and medium-sized enterprises, chief executive Teo Vanyo has his team create color-coded calendars that track their time and the urgency of their tasks.

Objectives are divided into priorities, with the most urgent marked “P1.” The least urgent are marked “P4.” Early in the pandemic, the average employee at Stealth Agents was working 13% more than before remote work. Now, the average employee is only working 5% more, and Vanyo credits this scheduling tool.

Overall, employees should take career management steps to ensure that they are prioritizing their most important work.

3. Technological Shifts at Work

Technology changes, but the need to be an adaptable professional stays the same. Career management is essential because many workers will experience challenges adjusting to new technology during their time in the workforce.

In fact, 11% of people have had challenges adapting to new technology at work during this year alone.

11% of employees had challenges adjusting to new technology this year.

Bill Joseph, the chief executive of Frontier Blades, which sells collectable knives, swords, and hunting products, struggled to adapt to his new internet modem, and his work paid a price.

“My old gadgets would not recognize the new modem, leading to a major hamper to my work,” Joseph said.

Joseph eventually worked through his problem and was back on his way to productivity. For other employees, though, this year has been full of technological challenges.

Consider the plight of a 55-year-old American worker:

Henry has worked at his company for 15 years. He is a routinely high-performing salesman who, before COVID-19, spent much of his workweek on the road meeting in-person with clients. Now, his company works remotely and sponsors no travel.

In the past year, Henry has had to:

  • Set up a home office
  • Learn video chat platforms such as Zoom and Webex
  • Hold meetings with clients remotely
  • Use Slack to contact and communicate with coworkers

These changes are abrupt and can be difficult. Employees with little experience working remotely are being asked to do it all the time, and those who didn’t prioritize flexibility and a willingness to learn early in their career management journey are now at a disadvantage.

In fact, Mike Kujapelto, chief executive and founder of LaptopUnboxed, a site that helps consumers find the best electronic products, says that the speed of technological advancements in the workplace was far faster than usual in 2020.

Still, Kujapelto anticipates that being able to adapt to new technology will continue to be a necessity for workers who want to demonstrate value to their company and accomplish their desired career progression.

Employees should practice career management in part because the job, the skills, and the technology they have now do not represent how they may spend their time at work in the future.

4. Difficulty Providing Childcare

For many workers, planning and managing a career is an extension of planning and managing a family.

Providing childcare is a challenge for working professionals that has become more serious during the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the past year, 7% of people had difficulty meeting childcare challenges.

7% of people had difficulty providing childcare this year.

Experts say that employees recognize how difficult it is to arrange for childcare and that many professionals now delay starting a family until they can afford the significant costs of childcare.

“Planning for childcare is hard to do because of how expensive recurring childcare expenses are,” said Thomas Uzuegbunem, the founder of Parents Plus Kids, a website about parenting and family finances.

Uzuegbunem says that professionals he works with tend to take 2 approaches to managing childcare costs:

  1. Waiting to have children until they are confident that they can afford childcare
  2. Relying on extended family for childcare support. In fact, Uzuegbunem says that some professionals relocate to different cities simply to be close to grandparents, siblings, and other family members who can reduce their childcare burden.

American parents have higher childcare costs than professionals in other countries, and must therefore consider childcare when they plan and manage their careers.

Most Employees Think Additional Time Off For Parents is Fair During the COVID-19 Pandemic

When Facebook offered up to 10 weeks of paid time off for employees with childcare responsibilities, not everybody was happy.

Some employees thought such a policy unfairly favored parents, and a few non-parents wrote critical messages on internal company message boards, claiming that the company was less concerned about their needs.

Overall, though, most people (58%) think that during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is fair for companies to offer additional paid leave to employees with childcare responsibilities.

58% of people think it is fair for employees with childcare responsibilities to receive additional PTO during the COVID-19

Experts say that companies are responding to employee sentiment by offering additional paid time off to parents and guardians, often in an effort to retain their top talent.

“We've seen the evolution of employee benefits during the pandemic move from mental health to virtual support to retention,” said Siran Cao, chief executive and co-founder of Mirza, an online family finances and fertility planning tool.

For companies, offering additional time off for parents is necessary to keep them working.

Cao suggests that while some companies may roll back their childcare-related support when the pandemic ends, employees should be prepared to negotiate for extra benefits if they are a parent.

Companies that don’t offer extra benefits to parents may struggle to compete for top talent. Employees with kids will be practicing effective career management if they advocate for additional paid time off.

5. Pay Reductions

When people envision the arc of their career, they may think mostly of promotions, pay raises, and moving into a corner office.

In reality, the employees who best practice career management understand that setbacks such as pay cuts are part of working life.

In the past year, nearly 1 in 10 employees (9%) had their pay reduced.

9% of employees had their pay reduced this year.

Pay reductions can occur because of employee performance, shifting to a different role, or when a company makes across-the-board salary cuts.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a company might cut employee compensation instead of laying people off. Experts say that employees should guard against excess spending in case their pay is reduced and continue to contribute generously to their retirement accounts even if they do experience a pay cut.

Matthew Stratman, a financial advisor at Western International Securities, a financial services company, says that employees can reduce costs through simple measures such as eating out less and signing up for cheaper phone and cable plans.

Stratman says that when employees do have their pay cut, they should try not to cash out retirement accounts to make up the difference. 401(k)s and other retirement investments provide a valuable return, and Stratman thinks that money should remain earmarked for retirement expenses.

If employees do have their pay reduced, Adam Chase, president of Music Minds, a music publication, says they must advocate for themselves and reach an updated compensation agreement with their employer.

“If you have your pay cut, you need to make your employer give you information about when your pay will go back up and how you’ll be compensated for suffering a pay cut,” Chase said. “If you can’t get that guarantee, I’d honestly recommend looking for other work.”

Chase’s perspective is a reminder that career management is more than merely planning for success. People who manage their career effectively plan for and strategize when career setbacks occur.

6. Threat of Job Loss

Losing a job may seem like a rare, worst-case scenario, but 1 out of 20 American workers lost their job this year.

Employees practice career management because they know that the job they have now may not be the one they hold forever.

Five percent of people (5%) lost their job in the past year.

5% of people lost a job this year.

Experts say that American workers must manage their careers with the threat of job loss in mind.

“Employees should no longer expect to stay in the same role or the same company throughout their career,” said Samantha Hawrylack, a personal finance expert and co-founder of How to FIRE, a site that promotes financial independence.

Hawrylack says that employees should avoid living in fear of a job loss by carefully budgeting and, when possible, creating multiple streams of income. This way, employees know they will remain financially solvent, even if they do lose their job.

Still, people in the prime of their working life will probably need to earn a living if they lose their current job.

Janeesa Hollingshead, the co-founder of JJ Studio, a marketing and product launch agency, says that having a contingency plan in case of job loss can help employees find their next venture more quickly.

In Hollingshead’s case, she and her co-founder, Julia Lemberskiy, were quickly able to launch their own business this summer after their jobs at Uber Works were eliminated when Uber shuttered their department, along with other unprofitable subsidiaries.

Hollingshead and Lemberskiy lost their jobs in May and launched their agency in August. Already, JJ Studio has grown to nearly $500,000 in annualized revenue.

“As millennials, we knew that we were unlikely to spend our entire careers at Uber,” Hollingshead said. “We made contingency plans, and the COVID-19 pandemic simply sped up the timeline a bit.”

Managing a career means hoping for the best and planning for the worst. Even in the face of job loss, employees who follow strong career management principles can find fulfilling, rewarding work.

Career Management Is Essential To Achieving Professional Success

To achieve professional success, employees should manage their careers.

While career management takes effort, it is essential because workers:

  • Run the risk of burnout
  • Work long, demanding hours
  • Encounter shifts and changes in the technology they use at work
  • Face the challenges of providing childcare
  • May have their pay reduced
  • Sometimes lose a job

With so many potential professional pitfalls, career management helps employees succeed at work and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

About the Survey

The Manifest surveyed 501 full-time employees in the U.S.

Thirty-two percent of respondents (32%) live in the South; 32% live in the Midwest; 22% live in the West; 14% live in the Northeast.

Thirty-eight percent of respondents (38%) are men; 39% are female; 3% are non-binary, gender fluid, or other; 21% preferred not to give their gender.

Twenty-five percent of respondents (25%) are 18 to 34 years old; 39% are 35 to 54 years old; 26% are 55 years old or older; 11% did not give their age.

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