3 Distortive Trends To Avoid Around Career Mobility

Distortive Trends: Flawed thinking can prevent companies from taking advantage of the enormous talent opportunity within their business.

While employer-sponsored education benefits seemed tried and true in attracting and retaining talent just a few years ago, it simply isn’t enough in the current market. Unlocking career mobility by creating extensive opportunities for career advancement is critical in driving business, people and innovation outcomes. Employees today want a sightline to career advancement opportunities in order to stay or to move to a new employer. Companies need to think differently about how to attract and grow talent from within —  not just through employer funded learning opportunities, but through skilling tied to tangible career pathways into high-demand, upwardly mobile roles. 

But building a career mobility framework can feel daunting, especially given an uncertain economic environment. So, how do HR leaders make the case for mobility, and what can get in their way?

Here we share three common distortive trends that stymie forward progress on a unlocking career mobility for your workforce, and how to avoid them to drive positive ROI for your people and your business. 

1) Hyperbolic Discount: We’ll figure out career mobility someday, but for now let’s just cut costs.

Also known as “present bias,” hyperbolic discount refers to our tendency to favor the rewards we can get right now over waiting for potentially much bigger gains in the long-term. For example, putting less money aside for retirement in favor of more disposable income today.

At scale, this bias is especially dangerous. 

The perception that investing in career mobility is too time-consuming or too costly can lead decision-makers to treat these programs as cost centers, favoring what they assume will be short-term savings (especially in a recessionary environment) over long-term ROI. Treating career opportunity efforts as a cost center can indicate a lack of meaningful connection to a sustainable talent strategy. It’s easy to cut a program that embeds limiting policies and lacks supportive infrastructure for employees around program choice, pathways, career guidance, or persistence.

In reality, cutting skilling and training budgets or offering education benefits without the prospect of career growth leaves talent feeling unappreciated, underutilized and ready to look for their next opportunity. In fact, in Guild’s 2022 American Workforce Survey Report, 74% of workers polled said they would be “likely” or “very likely” to leave if offered career opportunities elsewhere. 

Conversely, there are immediate benefits to offering employees a pathway to gain the skills they need to access career opportunity. Talent attraction is chief among them — for example, 86% of employees engaged with Guild’s career opportunity platform say they’re now more likely to refer others to their employer. [1]


Guild's Career Opportunity Platform drives talent attraction, retention and career mobility for the Fortune 1000.

2) Scarcity Mindset – “Talent will leave and go somewhere else if we invest in their skills growth.”

Equity-minded leaders know that their company’s greatest strength comes from the people who work there. As a result, they work hard to bring value to their employees’ lives. Yet in a tight labor market, fear can drive managers to buy into the irrational mindset that investing in growing employees’ skill sets will simply better position them to go elsewhere.

In reality, failing to create opportunity all but guarantees poor talent retention. As PWC U.S. Chairman, Tim Ryan, put it recently: “The war for talent is over. Talent won.” 

No sustainable retention strategy is built on an assumption of a loose labor market or recession fears that might inspire employees to stay. The same can be said for only offering career advancement opportunities in favorable economic climates. Employees will seek opportunity and prioritize employers that invest in their future. That doesn’t stop and start with skills alone, but with what meaningful career opportunities are available to grow and use those skills.

In fact, employees who use Guild’s platform and benefit to access education through our Learning Marketplace were 2.1x less likely to leave their employer in the last 12 months compared to non-engaged employees. [2]


3) All-or-Nothing Thinking: If we can’t commit to building mobility pathways into every high-demand, upwardly mobile role immediately, we’ll have to wait until we can.”

Creating the right infrastructure for career opportunity is a major time investment, and it can be an overwhelming one — even for seasoned talent leaders and innovators. Although leadership might have enough alignment to move forward, finding the right place to start in identifying career pathways, then making them accessible to employees is challenging to disentangle. This can lead to the assumption that because programs can’t be scaled up in their entirety immediately, it’s better to wait until more resources are available. 

In reality, although equitable, internal career mobility programs are not built and perfected in one leap, the benefits are tangible within the first few steps. Matthew J. Daniel, Principal for Guild’s Talent and Mobility Strategy, recommends identifying the top 3-5 well trodden career pathways within your organization, aligning the necessary skills to those career pathways, and, critically, offering support to employees throughout their learning journey to drive mobility outcomes and to help employees see that it’s feasible. Making career advancement a reality for your workforce, even in small steps, becomes both inspiring and propulsive.  For every one enrolled Guild learner, an average 10 additional employees become Guild members in Year 1. [3]

That stands in stark contrast to many legacy programs such as tuition reimbursement-only approaches, which both limit access to those who can afford the up-front costs and are often poorly measured as retention drivers. In Guild’s recent webinar focused on driving business and talent outcomes through career pathways, Josh Bersin recounted two separate research studies that his company conducted on tuition reimbursement. His team discovered that the majority of companies had no idea what ROI they were actually getting from tuition reimbursement. “It was more of a benefit they felt that they had to have,” he explained, “than a tool to really help people move the needle.”

For every $1 invested with Guild's Career Opportunity Platform, employers see an average $3 in savings.

What’s more, investing in career opportunity creation has a strong ROI yield for talent development programs measured by gains in talent attraction, retention, DEI and mobility. Employers see an average 3x return on their investments when investing in education and upskilling through Guild. [4] 

Best Practices for Growth and Retention – Career Pathways

After surveying over 1,000 organizations around the globe on leading L&D practices, The Josh Bersin Company found that 5 of the top 15 practices driving business, innovation and people outcomes were related to career advancement opportunities.  Download the report:  Career Pathways: Building Tomorrow’s Workforce Today to learn more.


Download "Career Pathways: Building Tomorrow's Workforce Today" by The Josh Bersin Company


[1] Guild Membership Research Survey conducted in September of 2019.
[2] Guild’s internal data over the last 12 months as of 01.01.2023 from employers who have provided the required data for at least 13 months post launch.
[3] Guild’s internal data over the last 12 months as of 07.01.2022 from employers who have provided the required data for at least 13 months post launch.
[4] Average of all Return on Investment analyses conducted by Guild for employer partners as of 01.01.2023.

Written by Alex Cannon

Senior Content Manager

Alex Cannon has been an advocate for innovative education for over a decade, with experience in higher ed, cross-functional learning partnerships in workforce, government, philanthropy, and postsecondary education, as well as informal learning. She writes and researches from the intersection of the future of learning, work, and opportunity.

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