For years it was assumed that people wanted two main things in their careers – money and advancement. Organisations have offered their employees both of these through promotion up the career ladder. More recently however people have begun to realise that with societal and economic changes, there is much more to a career than earning money and moving upwards.
In the 1950’s, the bureaucratic organisation was at its peak. However from the 1980’s onwards, organisations began to realise that having flatter, more adaptable structures led to huge economic rewards for them. Arthur, Inkson and Pringle stated that “if the byword of the Industrial State era was planning, its equivalent in the new era is flexibility. It is a word that turns conventional career thinking on its head” (1999, p. 9). People now need to make their own career success, rather than rely on their organisation to provide them with a way of achieving it. So what has this meant for the word ‘career’?
No longer does the word career lead to visions of climbing one’s way up the corporate ladder. In the career development literature these changes have been referred to as Protean and Boundaryless careers. Essentially, these terms mean that people are now directing their own career paths, making career decisions in line with their personal values, and crossing organisational boundaries more frequently during their careers. Individuals have also had to become more open to networking and collaborating both within and beyond their own organisation. So what does this mean for individuals and organisations?
Individuals are always going to want different things from their careers. The key now is for individuals to decide what they want out of their career and then find a way of achieving it. Those who are skilled, younger, open, and proactive are naturally going to adapt better to having to network, collaborate, and take charge of their own careers. However for those who may not adapt as easily to this new career environment, it has been shown that through career counselling, individuals can learn to take a more self-directed approach.
So what about organisations? While flexible and adaptable employees are valued in today’s work environment, are they less loyal? What kind of development opportunities should organisations now offer their staff? Should organisations help their staff to become more self-directed? These are the types of questions that all organisations need to be thinking about in order to adjust to this new career environment.