Career theory isn’t something that regularly crosses most people’s minds, in fact, the majority of coaching clients don’t even know it’s a ‘thing’. However there’s a whole world of research and thinking going on out there .....
and I’ve found in my work that introducing clients to certain theories and models can really help them to understand where they are in their working lives. This knowledge has helped many clients to make more informed career decisions.
In response to massive shifts in working patterns caused by globalisation, economic changes and technological developments a host of ideas have been developed and researched. The best known concept is that of the portfolio career but here, we’ll take a look at two of the major concepts challenging the traditional ideas of work. who knows, they may help you to see your career differently.
Traditionally, you had a job in a company and you probably had it for life. You’d dedicate yourself to the organisation or your occupation and climb the corporate ladder in return for job security and a pension in your retirement. This pattern had its roots way back in industrialisation and persisted up until the 1980s and 1990s. In terms of career theory, most people, by which I mean most men (as women would often leave the workplace to have children) in this time went through a fairly predictable career cycle of finding a job, specialising, climbing the ranks and then retiring.
And then things started to change. Kicked off by a decline in manufacturing and heavy industry, the invention of the internet and the subsequent trend towards internet connected, globalised organisations, companies cut back workforces, streamlined their processes and flattened their reporting structures. Jobs for life disappeared and the workforce began to move around more in order to combat redundancy and achieve progression.
For many years that has been the norm. Look at many established employers and you’ll probably still find ‘lifers’ however, a large proportion of the workforce will have worked in other roles in different organisations and moved out of necessity, for development or progression.
If you only listened to the media you’d think it was all doom and gloom, wage growth has disappeared for many, zero hours contracts are on the rise, and employment law is struggling to keep up with the boom in the gig economy but many workers have been handed the opportunity to manage their careers in new ways. Here we examine two interconnecting concepts central to many modern careers.
The Protean Approach
In the world of work, Protean Careers are flexible and adaptable and less dependent on traditional organisations to define and facilitate success. The term Protean is taken from ancient Greek mythology in which the sea god, Proteus was said to possess the power to change his form according to the situation. In its modern usage, Protean refers to versatility and adaptability:
• Protean careers are self-directed by the worker
• They draw motivation from the worker's personal values and individual goals.
• Protean workers meet change with change
• Success is no longer defined in traditional, objective terms such as salary and job title.
On the organisational front, companies with a less paternalistic and more transactional arrangement with workers expect those with protean careers take responsibility for their own development and progression. Protean workers must remain vigilant and ready to change. This means nurturing careers through self-understanding, professional development, and maintenance of networks and connections.
Characterised by physical and/or psychological mobility Boundaryless Careers represent the opposite to organisational or occupational careers. Much like Protean Careers, development and career progression is self-directed but in this instance, the focus is on careers crossing traditional occupational and organisational boundaries. Boundaryless careers are often perceived to be:
• Self-directed by the worker.
• Often project based.
• Based on a career lattice rather than a career ladder- the worker has the opportunity to move sideways and backward rather than just upwards.
• Workers are free from the traditional psychological contract where loyalty is traded for stability.
Once most commonly associated with those in project roles in the IT and Technology sectors, the Boundaryless phenomenon has spread and is prevalent in many ‘knowledge industries’. It is now common to seek out roles in new companies, move across sector boundaries and even re-train in a completely new area.
Put simply, industry and society are changing and this is having an impact on how we are choosing to conduct both our working and personal lives. Roles have become less manual and more knowledge based. In turn, globalisation has exerted pressure on organisations resulting in flatter, sleeker, more cost effective company structures where outsourcing and flexible project-based work is becoming more prevalent. This uncertainty encourages workers to seek out opportunities beyond their traditional organisational or occupational barriers.
All the while, workforces are more educated, equal and aspirational - encouraged by society to strive for what is important to them. A result of this is that women are leading the charge in demanding new patterns of working.
How Can These Ideas Help You?
Career management starts with insight and understanding and these ideas give you a lens to view your career through. If a single company/ role route isn’t delivering against your needs and expectations then there is another way forwards.
If you’re interested in taking a more active role in your career management then first you need to establish what is important to you. A career coach can help you to do this but there are also lots of free resources online that can help you to assess your values, skills and interests. Building an idea of what is important long term can help you plot out the steps in between and taking career advice from industry contacts, recruiters and friends can help you to amass the knowledge you need to make well reasoned, constructive role changes.
This might mean re-skilling or retraining, taking a sideways or backwards step to a position in a new sector that gives you the opportunity to learn new skills or jump to an organisation that allows you to fit in the things that are important to you.