Supporting Employee Career Development Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

November is Canada Career Month, a time to celebrate the importance of meaningful work and to improve access to career services and education that ensure all Canadians, from coast-to-coast, are better prepared to develop their careers.

Amidst tragedy and disruption, career development has taken a backseat in the pandemic era. Many organizations have been forced to make difficult decisions, including significant layoffs, just to keep the doors open. Now, there is a growing fear among businesses that a second wave and shutdown could be on the way. Which begs the question: is it really the time to be talking about career and professional development?

Well, think of it this way. It’s been approximately eight months since the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, and we know that this virus is not through with us yet. As time goes on, career development is stalling, and careers are regressing for many, making the risk of turnover high.

As leaders and HR managers, it’s our responsibility to ensure employees feel connected to their job, to acknowledge their work, and to recognize the value in the work that they do. Now is the time to restart conversations about personal goals and achievements, areas for professional development, and educational opportunities that will help top talent reach their goals, become contenders for promotions, and advance in their careers.

Consider applying the following strategies.

1. Have a Discussion

Step away from a formal performance review, and instead plan a discussion around performance. Review the current constraints that have come up due to the pandemic, logistics and the economy. Assess roadblocks and barriers and how they can be removed or modified to benefit employee performance. In light of current working parameters, set performance goals, and be sure to take a personal interest in employee development goals.

Questions to consider:

  • Does the “new normal” require new or additional skills?
  • Has the pandemic impacted your employee’s career path or career desires?
  • Has the current situation forced your employee to press pause on their career path or take a step backwards?
  • Is the pause intentional?
  • What support, tools, or resources does your employee need at this point in their career journey?

Be open to charting an interim career path, and identifying milestones and support required. This shouldn’t be a one and done discussion. Meet regularly to examine progress and changes, and expect changes! Encourage open communication up and down the chain of command by equipping managers with the skills to manage these conversations as well.

2. Promote Virtual Training and Learning

Once you’ve spoken to your employees about their career development goals, you can fuel that growth by encouraging virtual training and learning opportunities. Investing in your employees’ development can deliver a strong ROI for your organization.

  • Host a virtual lunch and learn or workshop
  • Give employees the capacity to engage in virtual industry events, networking groups and conferences
  • Encourage independent learning and cross-training among employees

3. Establish a Formal Mentoring Program

Considering so many of us are working virtually today, setting up a formal mentorship program can be an excellent way to transfer knowledge and foster connection amongst team members. It can also be a powerful onboarding tool for remote employees who are navigating corporate norms and nuances from afar. For senior leaders who are grappling with how to manage remote teams, a coaching program that aligns personal goals with business outcomes may be the best path forward.

4. Support Employees in Defining and Assessing Priorities

With many concerned about the impacts of the pandemic, 2020 has caused people to rethink their priorities. Employers must take a proactive approach in managing employee resilience and wellbeing, especially as the pandemic exacerbates mental health risks. Career development mustn’t feel like a weight added to your employees’ mental load. Instead, consider integrating it into their allocated work time, setting the expectation that a certain number of hours will be spent on professional development each day/week/month, as opposed to an additional task that needs to be added to their already overflowing plates.


AccessHR Inc. provides professional HR consulting services with exceptional quality, creativity and ethical practice. When it comes to supporting clients, we focus on doing the right thing.