“Darling you got to let me know…Should I stay or should I go? If you say that you are mine…I’ll be here ’til the end of time…So you got to let me know…Should I stay or should I go?”

If you recognize these words, you probably fit into one or more of the following categories:

  • You’re a fan of The Clash
  • You’re over the age of 25 and have ears (*me)
  • You’re in the “Sophomore” career stage at your current company (*me again)

Why am I referencing punk rock lyrics when talking about your career stage? Because the sophomore stage (4-7 years at a company) represents a critical juncture in an employee’s career. It’s when many ask themselves that exact question: “should I stay (at this company) or should I go?” They’ve reached the point where they’re wondering if this is where they want to build their career, or if it’s time for a change. And while many factors will influence this decision, there’s one that rises above the rest: how engaged is that employee?

According to Padilla’s recent Engage by Stage research study, two out of five employees are completely disengaged from their current employer. And while many companies look at age when trying to engage employees, your career stage can have just as big an impact on your engagement level and preferences.

Here’s another interesting fact when it comes to engaging this particular stage: our study revealed that sophomores can build the best word of mouth for their company. Compared to newbies (3 years or less) and tenured employees (8-10 years), employees in this stage are more satisfied overall, more likely to recommend their company and more likely to stay at their company for the next 12 months.

Sophomores can be your best, most natural brand ambassadors – but only if they’re successfully engaged.Click To Tweet

Sophomores can be your best, most natural brand ambassadors – but only if they’re successfully engaged. So how can companies make sure their sophomore employees are engaged enough to stay? As someone who is phasing out of this stage – and planning to stay where I am – here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Self-efficacy is their top motivator. While the top motivator for newbies is learning new skills or gaining new knowledge, sophomores are focused on using those skills and that knowledge to prove themselves in the workplace. Their top three motivators are: feeling pride in having accomplished a task or output/a job well-done (63 percent); proving to themselves that they could accomplish certain tasks (59 percent); and contributing to the organization’s overall mission or goals (57 percent). These employees want to feel like they have a purpose and are bringing value to their organization. Companies need to make sure they are giving their employees the opportunity to feel this way and recognizing them appropriately for their value.
  • They’re afraid of feeling “stuck. Sophomores have similar worries to newbies (e.g., funding their priorities in life, saving for retirement, etc.); however, at the sophomore stage, they also begin to worry about not feeling challenged enough. As mentioned above, employees in this stage want to feel like they’re putting their skills to the test and growing in their career. They fear complacency, and when that fear sets in, they start to question their future at the company. Their direct supervisors can help avoid this by checking in regularly with their sophomore employees to discuss growth opportunities and career paths.
  • Work-life balance becomes more important. With the majority of sophomores between the ages of 21 to 36 – the time when many people get married and start families – it makes sense that these employees place a higher value on work-life balance than any other stage (ranked 8.2 out of 10). Around this time, they’re bound to assess their current career situation to make sure it’s going to support their life choices and goals – and companies need to make sure they’re offering the programs and benefits that will keep them there through this important period.
  • Transparency is critical. Employees at this stage also place a higher value on transparency than those in other stages (8.2 out of 10). They begin to pay more attention to ethics and honest communications, and have built enough experience with their employer to see the “nitty gritty” and know if they want to stay. Most communications should come from their direct supervisors, and they should be a little more frequent than the communications to the other stages.

While engaging employees is important at every stage, it’s clear that the sophomore stage can be a make-it-or-break-it time period. Companies who don’t focus on engaging employees at this stage could be missing a huge opportunity to not only retain employees for the long haul, but use them as ambassadors in recruiting and retaining others as well.

Check back next week for an in-depth look at the tenured employee career stage!