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date: 18 November 2018

Career Development and Organizational Support

Summary and Keywords

The complexity of modern careers requires personal agency in managing career development and employability capital as personal resources for career success. Individuals’ employability capital also serves as a valuable resource for the sustainable performance of organizations. Individuals’ ability to proactively engage in career self-management behaviors through the use of a comprehensive range of self-regulatory capabilities, known as career metacapacities, contributes to their employability capital. Organizational career development supports initiatives that consider individuals’ proactivity in light of conditions that influence their motivational states, and availability of personal resources helps organizations benefit from individuals who bring information, knowledge, capacities, and relationship networks (i.e., employability capital) into their work that ultimately contribute to the organization’s capability to sustain performance in uncertain, highly competitive business markets. Career development support practices should embrace the individualization of modern-day careers, the need for whole-life management, and the multiple meanings that career success has for individuals.

Keywords: career development, career distress, career metacapacities, employability capital, proactive career behavior, autonomous intrinsic motivation, organizational career development support

The notion of careers in today’s more turbulent and complex business environment has been reframed to encapsulate the dynamics of individuals’ responsibility in taking personal agency of their career development. Individuals can proactively engage in career self-management behaviors through the use of a comprehensive range of self-regulatory capabilities called career meta-capacities (Coetzee, 2014). Serving as important personal resources, career metacapacities facilitate proactive career behaviors and autonomous intrinsic motivation that help individuals deal positively with setbacks and career success and to craft changes that contribute to their career success, career satisfaction, and well-being (Stauffer, Maggiori, Johnston, Rossier, & Rochat, 2016; Van der Heijde, 2014). Career metacapacities also contribute to the employability capital of individuals, which enhances their probability to achieve career success in the modern career context (Van der Heijde, 2014). This article offers a framework for understanding how individuals’ ability to proactively engage in career self-management behaviors through the use of a comprehensive range of career metacapacities contribute to their employability capital. The requirement for employability capital needs to be understood in the context of modern career development.

Modern Career Development

Traditionally, careers have been portrayed as a linear path with vertical growth opportunities in the particular organizational hierarchy resulting in the accumulation of job competencies and job experience in a specific job (Akkermans, Brenningkmeijer, Huibers, & Blonk, 2012). Career development generally entailed facilitating an optimal fit between personal career needs, values, and interests and the social context in which the career was pursued (Hall, 2013). In recent years, levels of job discontinuity and underemployment have increased due to more flexible labor markets, decreasing employment rates, temporary jobs, and flexible contracts. The ideal of achieving person-environment fit has become less relevant because of shifting organizational and work structures with fewer hierarchical levels and more blurred and uncertain career paths and occupations (Akkermans et al., 2012; Coetzee, Roythorne-Jacobs, & Mensele, 2016; Hall, 2013; Litano & Major, 2016).

Modern day career development is now reflected in the series of choices individuals have to make throughout the life of their careers in relation to constructing and maintaining a path through their employability capital. Career choices have become complex because careers now include trajectories that reflect periods of voluntary or involuntary professional stability (i.e., continued employment irrespective of organizational changes), transitions (organizational, horizontal, or vertical), underemployment, and periods of unemployment (Johnston, Maggiori, & Rossier, 2016).

In the modern workplace, achieving optimal person-environment congruence as an element of career success and satisfaction is increasingly being replaced by taking personal responsibility for one’s career development. Being flexible, adaptable, and competent in pursuing multidirectional career paths across numerous organizations has become a hallmark of experiencing career satisfaction (Litano & Major, 2016). Although a career within a single organization is still viable and a desirable option for most employees (Clarke, 2013; Litano & Major, 2016), individuals’ career development seems to be driven by the need for careers that are compatible with their personal lives (whole-life integration), and offer opportunities for lifelong learning, career growth, and personal development through a committed shared employer-employee responsibility for career management (Litano & Major, 2016). Individuals’ career path choices and patterns are shaped by decisions made in response to demands posed by nonwork circumstances (personal life and family life) and employer employability requirements (Greenhaus & Kossek, 2014; Litano & Major, 2016). The shift in modern careers embraces the importance of helping individuals develop and cultivate the career self-management capacities they need to construct meaningful careers through whole-life integration career development initiatives that contribute to their career-life well-being and career satisfaction (Akkermans et al., 2012; Litano & Major, 2016).

Career Metacapacities in Modern Career Development

Modern life design theory (Savickas, 2012) takes a whole-life perspective on career development and advocates support initiatives that build individuals’ psychosocial career metacapacities on a cognitive, emotional, motivational, and social level. The cultivation of these metacapacities and the ability to apply them in career management help individuals to not only prepare for and adapt to changing work environments but to also successfully craft and execute career plans that are compatible with their professional career development and individualized work-life balance needs (Stauffer et al., 2016). Contemporary career development is generally driven by feelings of satisfaction, self-actualization, and fulfillment in both the work and nonwork domains that allude to psychological perceptions of career success, life satisfaction, work-family balance satisfaction, and career well-being (Greenhaus & Kossek, 2014; Litano & Major, 2016; Sullivan & Arthur, 2006).

Individuals continuously evaluate the influence of work and nonwork factors on career development and strive to find the best fit among work and personal commitments (Litano & Major, 2016; Mainiero & Sullivan, 2005). Perceptions of fit or congruence between work and personal life needs and career decisions (career satisfaction) are influenced by an evaluation of alignment between internal values and external behaviors and organizational values, attaining and sustaining equilibrium (congruence) between one’s work and nonwork demands, and individuals’ need for stimulating work and career advancement, growth, and personal development opportunities (Greenhaus & Kossek, 2014; Litano & Major, 2016; Sullivan & Mainiero, 2007). Careers are seen as individualized self-projects for meaning-making and the coconstruction of a career identity that is culturally shaped through the collaboration and negotiation interactions with the work-nonwork social group and community. Individuals’ career-life stories reveal the process of building and renegotiating the self in a specific situation through narratives about experiences of balance and incongruence (for example, satisfaction or dissatisfaction, transitional traumas, uncertainties, changing role expectations and adjustments) and transforming these experiences into meanings (Hartung, 2013).

Career metacapacities serve as psychosocial self-regulatory or self-steering resources in facilitating employability, flexibility, career satisfaction, and career well-being in the career-life story. Such capacities help individuals take personal agency in their career-life management, effectively influence their social (work-home) environments, and regulate their behavior in order to succeed in work and nonwork settings (Coetzee, 2014). Through self-reflection on the career story, self-knowledge and self-awareness cultivate meaning-making and adaptability. Careers are constructed, (re)interpreted, and (re)shaped through the dynamic interaction of an individual with the interface between possible structural misalignments and work-nonwork imbalances (Afiouni & Karam, 2014). Career success as such becomes a process of dynamic social construction rather than an objective reality; it is seen as a localized, coconstructed process and subjectively malleable through the unfolding of the career-life story within a particular social context (Afiouni & Karam, 2014; Dries, Pepermans, & Carlier, 2008). Individuals learn how to invest in their career metacapacities to proactively initiate or adaptively integrate significant new experiences into the ongoing career-life story (Savickas, 2012). Career development activities that encapsulate the work-nonwork domains through a whole life (life design) approach help to uncover the person’s sense of career identity (i.e., congruence among deeply held values, needs, interests, and social role requirements), create self-awareness of the role and use of career metacapacities in career meaning-making, and facilitate career flow and career well-being (Coetzee et al., 2016).

Employability Capital

Career metacapacities denote effective self-regulatory capabilities that help individuals flexibly apply as many different resources and skills as are necessary to achieve a goal (Porath & Bateman, 2006; Van der Heijde, 2014). A core goal in contemporary career development is sustaining employability through the use of a employability capital (Coetzee et al., 2016). Career scholars outline a range of career metacapacities (denoted as metacapital dimensions) associated with employability capital:

  • Career capital: career “knowing” competencies relating to the intelligent career framework of Parker, Khapova, and Arthur (2013): knowing why (career motivation, personal meaning, and employer-independent career identity, personal values, interests, work-family issues/role demands); knowing how (facilitated by psychological capital and social capital); knowing whom (facilitated by social capital and reputation capital).

  • Human capital: a person’s education level, qualifications, perceptions of marketability, work and life experience, work-related and occupation-specific knowledge and skills, and work readiness (generic transferable) skills and attributes such as, for example, problem-solving and decision-making skills, analytical skills, enterprising skills, teamwork skills, social and communication skills, ethical/moral behavior, and lifelong learning orientation (Coetzee et al., 2016; Coetzee & Schreuder, 2016; Maurer & Chapman, 2013).

  • Psychological (personal) capital: career competencies (for example, career engagement, that is, proactive career self-management behaviors, career resilience, career adaptability, work exploration, communicative competencies; career planning and goal-setting behavior, and psychological mobility, that is, the confidence in one’s capacity to move or progress in one’s career, either intra-firm or inter-firm); intrapersonal attributes (for example, reflective competencies, proactivity, self-efficacy, self-esteem, behavioral adaptability, emotional intelligence, optimism, and hope: Akkermans, Schaufeli, Brenninkmeijer, & Blonk, 2013; Coetzee, 2014; Coetzee & Schreuder, 2016; Savickas & Porfeli, 2012).

  • Social capital: building career relevant social networks; the capacity to network and maintain mutually beneficial social relationships in order to gain access to career-related information and resources; and cultural competence (Coetzee & Schreuder, 2016; Parker et al., 2013; Ryan & Hopkins, 2013).

  • Reputation capital: individual’s personal brand, expertise, and the breadth, depth, and quality of their social networks, including a professional network that goes beyond a single employer (Coetzee & Schreuder, 2016; Meister & Willyerd, 2010).

The metacapital dimensions of an individual’s employability capital represent individualistic agentic attributes (e.g., intrinsic autonomous motivation, proactivity, self-enhancement, willingness to engage in change and go ahead) and competence attributes (e.g., personal resources such as career capital, human capital, psychological capital, social capital, and reputation capital) that are malleable and can be actively developed by individuals (Akkermans et al., 2013; Mollaret & Miraucourt, 2016). The career metacapacities underpinning the sum total of a person’s employability capital seem to be positively related to proactive career behavior and positive career outcomes (perceived performance and employability, career satisfaction, life satisfaction, well-being, commitment, and engagement; see Akkermans et al., 2013; Coetzee, 2014; Ferreira, 2014; Potgieter, 2014; Van der Heijde, 2014). Positive career experiences facilitate career curiosity, that is, the willingness to career venture and to develop personal resources (Coetzee, 2014; Fleisher, Khapova, & Jansen, 2014). Individuals’ knowledge and self-awareness of the career metacapacities underpinning their employability capital are important personal resources that help them to effectively and confidently manage their career development, and to seek career opportunities proactively within as well as outside of their current organization (Akkermans, Brenninkmeijer, Schaufeli, & Blonk, 2015). Personal resources are linked to well-being and resilience, that is, individuals’ positive self-evaluations of their ability to control and effect their environment successfully (Akkermans et al., 2013; Hobfoll, Johnson, Ennis, & Jackson, 2003). As such, personal resources have the potential to buffer the relationship between work-family role demands and stressors and health-related and organizational outcomes. Being functional in achieving goals and in stimulating personal growth and development, the empowerment of employees’ personal resources may be of value for employees to thrive in their careers and jobs, and alleviate the pressures and demands of adverse working conditions, perceived career barriers, and work-family life imbalances (Akkermans et al., 2013; Rothmann, 2014; Tremblay & Messervey, 2011).

Proactivity and Motivation as Personal Resources in Career Self-Management

Individuals’ career metacapacities are associated with proactive career behaviors that require high levels of self-regulation, energy, and effort resulting in high expenditure of personal resources (Akkermans et al., 2013; Strauss, Parker, & O’Shea, 2017). Proactive career behaviors are deliberate actions undertaken by individuals in order to realize their career goals (Akkermans et al., 2012). Because it is self-initiated, proactivity implies that individuals decide themselves how and when to engage in proactive behaviors through the use of their self-regulatory resources (Parker et al., 2010). Proactivity further involves self-initiating change in order to improve current circumstances and craft a different future, rather than passively adapting to present conditions. The status quo is challenged and long-term benefits are prioritized over more immediate outcomes, which entails considerable psychological risks for individuals and an additional expenditure of self-regulatory personal resources. Drawing on the premise of the conservation of resources theory (Hobfoll et al., 2003), that individuals are generally motivated to accumulate and protect resources, career scholars argue that the high expenditure associated with proactive behavior may potentially ultimately deplete resources, lead to job strain and career distress, and negatively affect individuals’ career well-being (Creed, Hood, Praskova, & Makransky, 2016; Parker & Collins, 2010; Strauss et al., 2017). Career distress indicates that individuals appraise the dynamic interaction between themselves and the environment as taxing or exceeding their resources and jeopardizing their wellness. Career conditions such as job loss, career transition, poor career planning, lack of career development and social support, perceptions of disruptive career barriers, and career identity-environment incongruence can all contribute to experiences of career distress (Creed et al., 2016; Jiang, 2017). In this regard, research provides evidence that the experience of depletion of resources due to proactive behavior partially depends on individuals’ motivational states at work (Strauss et al., 2017).

Self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) differentiates between controlled motivation (being driven by external pressures such as high work demands, gaining rewards, or avoiding punishments) and autonomous motivation (being energized and intrinsically motivated, identifying with an activity’s value resulting in self-endorsement of one’s actions) as two states of motivation at work. Proactive behavior that occurs under highly controlled motivation at work without any compensating autonomous motivation tends to be experienced as depleting, resulting in job and psychological strain and impairments to career well-being in the long term. However, the strain-inducing effect of proactivity is buffered when autonomous motivation is also high, even when high controlled motivation conditions exist (Strauss et al., 2017). Organizational career development support initiatives, which include work redesign to enhance job control, may potentially help to prevent the incidence of proactivity-induced job and psychological strain through the promotion of autonomous motivation. Enhancing employees’ sense of goal meaningfulness, competence, self-directedness, and choice may further help promote high levels of autonomous motivation (Strauss et al., 2017). Autonomous motivational states at work may facilitate proactive behavior as a means to protect current personal resources or to generate future resources that contribute to the individual’s sense of career success. Proactivity driven by autonomous motivation is generally characterized by behaviors such as actively developing skills and capacities needed for future situations; personal resources are accumulated and one’s career well-being is enhanced as a result (Strauss et al., 2017).

Intrinsic autonomous motivation (feeling enthusiastic, engaged, and confident about one’s career metacapacities) in career self-management allows individuals to set more challenging career goals, engage in problem-solving behaviors, and pursue win-win outcomes because they tend to be more innovative and open to feedback in a positive engaged state. Individuals have more energy to engage in proactive behaviors and are willing to increase the amount of effort they put into their career management (Parker & Liao, 2016). Proactive behavior that enhances career success considers the self, the context, and others in career self-management (Parker & Liao, 2016):

Consideration of the self: Individuals align their goals with their own values and resources (e.g., time, skills, strengths, interests); they consider whether the proactive goal provides an opportunity to grow and learn, is sustainable in the long term, and whether the goal is personally meaningful to them. Individuals actively manage their personal resources by considering how the change can be incurred without draining their time and energy, what they can do to persist with their goals when facing obstacles, and how they can stay positive in the face of setbacks and prevent feeling discouraged or overwhelmed (Parker & Liao, 2016).

Consideration of the context: Individuals consider the meaningfulness of the proactive change goal in relation to the needs of the situation and how to manage the change effectively for meaningful long-term changes and impact. Individuals further consider how to effectively influence others around them to help them achieve their goal, how to manage resistance to the change effort, and how they can make effective use of the external resources, support mechanisms, and opportunities in their environment when implementing the change (Parker & Liao, 2016).

Consideration of others: Individuals consider whether they have incorporated others’ interests, preferences, and goals into the proactive goal, whether the goal would help or benefit others, and whether the goal can be refocused for mutual benefits to everyone. Individuals consider ways of working toward their goals so that it supports the broader team and organizational goals (Parker & Liao, 2016).

Autonomous motivational proactivity in career self-management enables individuals to deal with career shocks that they may encounter. Although proactive goal setting can be a valuable source of inspiration and guidance in career self-management, unanticipated developments within the self (i.e., evolving career identity and aspirations) and the career context (e.g., downsizing, changes in the nature of work) can radically alter the expected trajectory of individuals’ careers (Heslin & Turban, 2016). Career shocks are distinct and impactful events that trigger deliberation about impending career transitions such as the need for upskilling, new job searches, changing occupations and retiring, positive events such as unexpected promotions or new job offers, and negative events such as not receiving a promotion. Career metacapacities such as self-efficacy, resilience, and adaptability help individuals to bounce back from career shocks and adjusting goals and strategies (Heslin & Turban, 2016). The ability to initiate a proactive change, find a meaningful reason to initiate a proactive change, and the enthusiasm (intrinsic autonomous motivation) to initiate a proactive change are important mind-sets for career success and anticipating career shocks (Heslin & Turban, 2016).

Organizational Career Development Support

Organizational career development support is important for stimulating proactive career behaviors that contribute both to the individual’s career success and well-being and the organization’s performance. Support initiatives should be integrated with career-related human resource practices in organizations and help employees to gain the career metacapacities and resources they need to successfully manage their careers (Akkermans et al., 2015). Goal facilitation theory (Xie, Zhou, Huang, & Xia, 2017) proposes that individuals consider the social environment (e.g. significant others, jobs, organizations, community) instrumental to goal advancement and achievement. Positive mind-sets develop when employees feel that important and meaningful goals are advanced in the social environment. Personal goal facilitation through access to organizational career development support initiatives is positively associated with proactive behaviors, job satisfaction, career satisfaction, and well-being (Xie et al., 2017). Organizational career development support practices such as individual assessment and counseling, training, personal growth and development opportunities, mentoring and coaching, job rotation and job enrichment, career planning discussions, performance feedback, and career pathing provide the resources and opportunities to develop employees’ careers (Guan, Zhou, Ye, Jian, & Zhou, 2015).

Feedback from the social environment and opportunities for self-reflection through career discussions are seen as essential elements of career development support because they inform the individual about goal suitability, progress, and the actions to take to increase the probability of reaching a goal (Creed, Hood, & Hu, 2017). Perceived negative goal performance discrepancies result in career-related distress (i.e., feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction), which in turn may lead to goal adjustment or behavior change through proactive behaviors (Creed et al., 2017). Discussions and counseling about career goal importance (i.e., commitment to an occupational role and career goals and the resolve to achieve them) facilitate the development of employability confidence and career metacapacities that contribute to employees’ career success, well-being, and satisfaction (Creed et al., 2017). Career counseling discussions about career self-management help strengthen the positive link between career metacapacities and subjective career success. Employees who are stimulated to actively use the opportunities for career metacapacity (i.e., employability capital) development within the organization are more likely to thrive in the ever-changing modern work environment (Chang, Feng, & Shyu, 2014).

People’s career motivations, decisions, and behaviors are shaped by the organization’s career culture, which represents beliefs and practices that prescribe what is valued for career success in the organization. Organizational career culture signals (i.e., information about intrinsic rewards such as feedback on accomplishing challenging tasks and self-esteem arising from the achievement, and extrinsic rewards such as money, pay, promotions, status, public recognition, and awards) inform employees that certain types of behavior will lead to the achievement of specific career outcomes (Hall & Yip, 2016). Employees collect information about the self (e.g., values, motivation) and the environment (i.e., career culture and social environment) in career developmental processes in order to coconstruct meaningful person-environment congruence (Jiang, 2017). Organizations should strive to identify competing signals and work toward aligning career culture signals with the mission and values of the organization. Utilizing for example new media communication tools to provide clear and consistent signals of a career culture that is aligned with the organization’s priorities is a helpful strategy. Employees should be engaged in all parts of the organization to identify action steps for desired changes in the career culture and culture-related practices (Hall & Yip, 2016). Employee involvement in organizational support practices facilitates perceptions of person-environment congruence and may alleviate experiences of career distress (Jiang, 2017). Perceptions of poor fit (i.e., lack of congruence between personal values and needs and those of the organizational career culture) may result in turnover intentions and low organizational commitment due to experiences of career distress (Creed & Gagliardi, 2015).

The imperative for employees to take personal agency in managing their careers requires organizations to embrace the individualization of career planning, coaching, and development opportunities. Whole-life developmental needs assessments, work-life policies and programs, and family-supportive supervisor behaviors are essential to facilitate employees’ proactivity in their work-life management (Litano & Major, 2016). Supervisor support and social support foster confidence and proactivity in career self-management (Jiang, 2017). Career success has multiple meanings for individuals. Setting up more flexible employment conditions and offering choices in working conditions (e.g., flex time and career leave), career development opportunities (e.g., job rotation, job crafting and enrichment, and project-related stretch assignments), and career trajectories may better appeal to employees with different career success meanings. Despite the complexity inherent in modern career development trajectories (i.e., periods of professional stability, transitions, underemployment, and periods of unemployment), organizational social support and flexible employment conditions contribute to the career well-being of the employee. On the other hand, repetitive work, high psychological demands, lack of growth and development opportunities, and low autonomy (job control) and social support may contribute to career distress and reduced well-being (Johnston, Maggiori, & Rossier, 2016). Practically, career practitioners can help employees develop awareness of the meaning of career success for them and how it evolves over time or career-life stages. Individuals can be guided to develop a portfolio of career success meanings and perceived career barriers or conditions relevant to the social context and how these align with their personal career values, interests, and work-life management needs (Litano & Major, 2016; Mayrhofer et al., 2016).

Modern day careers are seen as repositories of knowledge and capacities acquired through an evolving sequence of work experiences over time (Fleisher, Khapova, & Jansen, 2014). The career metacapacities acquired through work experiences are valuable employability capital for the organization. Organizations that invest in the development of employees’ careers benefit from individuals who bring information, knowledge, capacities, and relationship networks into their work that ultimately contribute to the organization’s ability to sustain performance in uncertain, highly competitive business markets. Facilitating employees’ ability to utilize and share their capital (career metacapacities) through career development support initiatives contributes to career and job satisfaction in the short- and long-term and affects recruiting and retention in a positive way. Satisfied employees have positive attitudes toward their employers if their career expectations are met. They engage in proactive behaviors to perform better at work and to contribute to positive organizational outcomes (Fleisher et al., 2014; Maurer & Chapman, 2013).

Conclusion

Individuals’ ability to proactively engage in career self-management behaviors through the use of a comprehensive range of self-regulatory career metacapacities contributes to their employability capital. Career development initiatives support individuals’ intrinsic motivation and ability to manage personal resources in proactive career self-management. The imperative for employees to take personal agency in managing their careers requires organizations to embrace the individualization of support initiatives for modern career development.

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