New research from Towers Watson, a leading global professional services company, reveals that the “glass ceiling” is no longer being hit by only women and ethnic minorities. The research highlights that a lack of career development is now a common problem for workers across all sectors, including those demonstrating the highest potential. Almost three quarters (73%) of employees say their career prospects have remained the same or worsened in the last 12 months.

The 2014 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study shows that UK employers risk losing their best employees to competitors by failing to provide adequate growth opportunities. Individuals name the chance to advance as one of the top considerations when choosing to join a new organisation, but also the second biggest reason to leave a job. This indicates a significant gap between pre-employment expectations and the actual work experience for many people. Similarly, recruiters’ promises that prospective employees will learn new skills often do not materialise according to the research.

Carole Hathaway, Global Leader of Towers Watson’s Rewards practice, said: “Britain’s wage stagnation has been stealing the headlines for some time while the concurrent career paralysis hasn’t got the attention it deserves from employers. The term “dead-end job” has been used in the past to refer largely to unskilled, low-paid roles but now applies to a high percentage of professional positions, where there are limited opportunities to progress and achieve greater financial success.

“A crucial component of attracting and retaining the most talented staff is for employers to be actively supporting employees in achieving their objectives and rising to new heights in their career. Without this, ambitious individuals can become disengaged and start looking around for a new role even when other aspects of the job – such as pay, benefits and company culture – are acceptable. Strong employee engagement equals high productivity so career development discussions are time well-invested and actually drive company performance.”

According to a simultaneous survey of employer opinions, the aptitude of managers in delivering career development programmes is a key part of the issue. The latest Towers Watson Talent Management and Reward Study shows that just 8% of employers feel their managers are effective in providing career-management support. While only a quarter of employers believe they have the right career-management tools in place. This perspective from companies is felt by the workforce, with only around a third of employees saying their manager helps them with career planning and decisions and does a good job of explaining how they can advance. The research points to a lack of resources as less than half (47%) of managers say they have the necessary time to support the development needs of their direct reports. Furthermore, only 45% of employees describe the training programmes at their organisation as adequate.

Richard Veal, UK Leader for Reward, Talent and Communication at Towers Watson, added: “Our research indicates that the perceived lack of career advancement opportunities could relate to poor internal communication about career-management programmes. If any communication is done, it normally focusses on the processes and not the motivational and emotional content of why and how an employee can connect with an organisation. Career management is one of the golden opportunities to strengthen an employee’s long-term commitment to a company.

“Leaving the bulk of the responsibility with managers for ensuring strong progression for their team members will only ever have a limited impact, due to time constraints and manager capability. However, increasingly employers can now use technology to deliver a more compelling and targeted employee experience of learning and development. Managers can benefit from technology to help raise awareness of what career-planning support is available and empower employee decision-making.”