Breadcrumbing has nothing to do with how much “bread” employees take home.

Quick Notes:

  • Lack of meaningful career development makes employees more likely to change jobs
  • 44% of employees don’t feel they have sufficient opportunities for career growth in their current positions”
  • Adequate career development opportunities contribute to a thriving, positive company culture

Employees and employers both want long-term success. While the goals of both groups often center around earning more money, employees also want to feel like they are progressing and making accomplishments in their careers. Although wages and benefits may seem to be the seat of motivation, studies show that opportunities for career development are more important factors when it comes to employee loyalty. Employees want to advance in their careers, and they want employers to help them.

Businesses have long recognized that career development is essential, but, in practice, career development often becomes a box to check rather than an action to take. Some employees have complained that their employers are “breadcrumbing” them when it comes to career development. What does this term mean? How can both employers and employees avoid this morale-sapping trap?

What is breadcrumbing?

Hansel and Gretel left a breadcrumb trail in the woods so they could find their way back home. In the modern world, this term has come to be associated with situations where a person who has something valuable gives the other party just enough of that valuable thing to keep the person on the trail. The person being breadcrumbed gets just enough food to want more but is never satisfied. People realize they are being “lead along.”

Low-quality professional development programs make employees feel like they are being strung along. They get a little something here and a little something there, but they never really receive anything of substance. The employee receives just enough career development assistance that they are unable to claim to have not received any help, but the assistance is so lackluster that it has not made a real contribution to the person’s ongoing career development.

Employees feel like there are beig strung along. They get a little something here and a little something there, but they never really receive anything of substance.

The causes and effects of breadcrumbing

Breadcrumbing is often a sin of omission. Whether a business offers a product or a service, current productivity is what keeps the money flowing in. The activities that impact cash flow will always be a higher priority to management, both at the mid-level and within the C-suite. Nevertheless, insightful planners recognize that employees are responsible for any success the company may have, so they are worthy of time and financial investments.

Businesses who refrain from breadcrumbing benefit. According to the Chicago Tribune, “By paying for classes, mapping paths to target positions and even hiring internal career coaches to sharpen resumes, employers are grooming workers to be better job candidates for more positions at a time when the vertical career ladder has been knocked away.” Developed employees become more valuable to the company, and they are more likely to stay with the company rather than leave because their needs are being met.

Ending the cycle

Career development only occurs as a result of careful planning. There should be a corporate plan outlining timelines and acceptable forms of career development, and employees and managers need to collaboratively create a unique career development plan for each employee. There is no one-size-fits-all solution because the trajectory of each person’s career depends on his or her personal goals. Seminars, online courses, and books may be highly valued by some employees and resented by others.

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Discuss what the employee hopes to gain from career development, and tailor the process to each individual. Mentorships, job shadowing, and cross-training can be very meaningful forms of career development. The employee needs to feel that their goals are understood, valued, and attainable. Employees who believe their goals can be reached in their current position will feel great about staying with the company for the long-term. Quality, individualized career development results in satisfied employees and less turnover.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

 Employees who don’t get enough career development may be prone to tell lies.

 What employee wouldn’t be satisfied with a three-day weekend?