Thursday, 21 May 2015

Career Self-Management

(Avila College, 2012)
I have noted an organisational trend which appears to be leaving staff to more actively manage their own careers.

Termed "career self-management", Kossek et al defines this as "the degree to which one regularly gathers information and plans for career problem solving and decision making", and "includes two main behaviors: developmental feedback seeking and job mobility preparedness" (1998, p. 935).

The trend disturbs me a little, as it appears that organisations are pulling away from helping employees to self-develop, to self-actualise. The employer gets all the use of the asset (the employee's skills), while the employee carries all the risk and the maintenance (burn-out, overuse, and the responsibility and cost to retrain and refresh). From a social justice point of view, unless staff are duly compensated for the risk and cost, this is becoming more of an employer-weighted advantage.

It is something that happened during the recession of the late 1990s (hence Kossek et al's research, I suspect), and has been steadily recurring since the 2007 GFC.

Some employers are doing good work in providing training in career self-management: they are working with staff to help them lead their own careers. This, in my view, is a good thing, but it is still not common, and even those employers who are trying to get this right may be wildly off beam. Kossek's study in 1998 explored the results at one US employer to find out how career self-management worked in their business, with hundreds of professionals participating. Using House's expectancy theory and a quasi-experimental design, the study aimed to evaluate career self-management training effects. Findings indicated that formal training was "unsuccessful in resocializing people to engage in career self-management activities, and when done as an isolated human resource strategy, decreased trainees' likelihood of engaging in career self-management behaviors" (1998, p. 935).

In other words, Kossek et al found that the training STOPPED staff engaging in career self-management. They found several factors that might account for this. That, following the training, staff:
  • know more, so realise they aren't doing enough development to keep up professionally
  • have greater unmet development expectations (of their employer) which damages their psychological contract with the organisation
  • may have found structured training offended their right to self-determination in their career choices.

Ouch. So even when organisations are trying to train people to self-manage their career, they can get it wrong - possibly by being too prescriptive, possibly by highlighting what isn't being done (so employees can suddenly see the unfilled gaps).

What should an employer do? In my view the best alternative is choice. Empower the employee to decide with the organisation. Allocate a training and development budget for each employee and decide together what will be the best use of everyone's effort.

And remember social justice.


  • Avila College (2012). Six Steps of Career Self-Management: Victorian Careers Curriculum Framework. Retrieved 21 May 2015 from 
  • Kossek, E. E., Roberts, K., Fisher, S., & DeMarr, B. (1998). Career self-management: A quasi-experimental assessment of a training intervention.  Personnel Psychology, December 1998, Volume 51, issue 4 (pp. 935-96).

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