Top career regrets, and how to fix them

Hunches, money and dreams: what are the biggest career regrets among your staff and how can you address them?

By Nicolas Heffernan

Not all your employees are going to be happy with their job at all times, and some might have specific wishes and regrets. How can you help them address those regrets without losing your most valuable staff?

When tech entrepreneur Daniel Gulati talked to a focus group of employees aged 28- 58, he discovered five common career regrets, reflecting the decision making moments where some people think they took a wrong turn. So how can you recognise regrets in employees, and help them turn it around?

1. I wish I hadn't taken the job for the money.
Realistically, if you stopped paying your employees, it wouldn’t be long before even the most engaged stopped showing up. People work for money, but of course not only for money. If you have staff who moved for a pay rise but seem dissatisfied, talk to them about their dream position and how they want to get there. Having a career plan can go a long way for individuals who aren’t sure they made the right decision.

2. I wish I had quit earlier.
This one’s probably the hardest on the list to address because those in this group are often the least engaged in your office. However, if it’s a lost opportunity or an unfulfilled passion that they’re looking to follow, it could be a matter of finding a place for them in another part of the business.

“The organisations that are able to retain people are the ones that have a reputation and are seen by people as ones where people have the opportunity to develop themselves to the fullest extent,” Rotman School of Management adjunct professor of organisational behaviour and HR management Hugh Arnold said. “If people don’t see those opportunities where they are now, they’re going to look elsewhere.”

3. I wish I had the confidence to start my own business.
As their personal finances shored up, the professionals Gulati surveyed yearned for more control over their lives, with many considering starting their own business. If your executives want more control over their time, consider working with them to develop a flexible work schedule. However, if it’s the independence and control that attracts employees to entrepreneurship it might be time to give them their own project or team to manage.

4. I wish I had used my time at school more productively.
When we’re forcing 18-year-olds to make decisions that will affect their entire careers, we can’t be surprised that many people feel they missed opportunities. This is another opportunity where offering retraining and redirecting can help. Loblaw offers their high potential employees opportunities to move into a field that interests them.

“Performance is a key indicator in judging what is their potential for next role,” said Nan Oldroyd, VP Human Resources, Loblaw Companies Limited. “It’s really part of recognising and rewarding our colleagues' contributions to the company.”

5. I wish I had acted on my career hunches.
Missed opportunities feature highly on any list of regrets, but turning down a job and watching the next choice fast track to CEO can be a painful and disillusioning experience. By working closely with those who feel they derailed their own career, you can find alternate routes and help them achieve those closely held goals.

“Far from being suppressed, career regrets should hold a privileged place in your emotional repertoire,” Gulati said. “Research shows that regret can be a powerful catalyst for change, far outweighing the short-term emotional downsides…  But it means that we must articulate and celebrate our disappointments, understanding that it's our capacity to experience regret deeply, and learn from it constructively to ultimately frame our future success.”

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