Career Management in times of rapid change

Essay, 2002

19 Pages, Grade: Grade A



1. Introduction

2. The ‘new’ shape of careers

3. Who should manage careers?
3.1 The individual: holding the red thread
3.2 The organisation: issues to be addressed

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Today’s organisational demand for high flexibility can mainly be attributed to the rapidly changing global economic and social landscape. Organisations find themselves confronted with the need for ongoing transformation as environmental discontinuity requires permanent and accelerated adaptation. Worral and Cooper evaluated the extend of transformation in UK-based businesses in the 1990s and found a “significant amount of restructuring” (1997: 27). There is little doubt that these processes of change have considerable impact on the nature of work and pattern of employment (Mayo 1991: 7; Heritage 2001: 18).

In this essay, the ‘new’ shape of careers in rapidly changing environments is examined. As not only economic but also social environments of organisations change, newly emerging career expectations of today’s individuals cannot be neglected. It is essential to briefly review these changes to understand arising necessities in career management.

Having established the major features of present careers, the essay proceeds to discussing the responisbility for managing careers. It raises the question, if the individual or the organisation is responsible for career management and outlines issues to be addressed. In a conclusion the main results are briefly summarized.

2. The ‘new’ shape of careers

The ‘new’ organisation

Rapid environmental change entails future insecurity. The dynamic situation organisations find themselves in limits the timespan and precision of forecasting (Mayo 1991: 100). Decentralization, empowerment and subsequent “delayering” (IPD 1998: 5) account for the dissolution of middle management layers and result in flatter structures with fewer hierarchical levels (Mayo 1991: 8). Hierarchical complexity is being further reduced by outsourcing (IPD 1998: 5), the general tendency towards downsizing (Herriot and Pemberton 1996: 757), and the increasing amount of team- or project-based work (IPD 1998: 5). Jobs are being enriched, work roles are becoming more flexible and, consequently, organisations are providing fewer job classifications (IPD 1998: 5). At the same time, the labour market as a whole is becoming more diverse through the emergence of new types of jobs (Heritage 2001: 18).

The ‘new’ individual

Greenhaus and Callanan (1994: 11) describe the contemporary employee as being “active and assertive” and “demanding a high degree of control over his/her career and life.” Not only the immediate job and career expectations are changing, but there is also a greater concern for “total life-style.” The individual concepts of personal success are being re-defined. Success is no longer exclusively regarded as advancing in one’s job but more and more incorporates non-work criteria. A survey of British managers about their “sources of satisfaction” confirmed this view (Goffee and Scase 1992: 377).[1]

As a widespread phenomenon in ‘postmodern’ western societies the relationship between the sexes and the notion of family and household are considerably changing. Traditional role pattern are increasingly overcome, and especially women face a greater variety of job and career opportunities to choose from. At the same time, more and more “single-parent households and two-career couples” (Greenhaus and Callanan 1994: 12) emerge.

Finally, demographic changes will have impact on the future workforce. Besides the rising number of women entering the labour market, more older and fewer younger people will be available. The average age of the workforce is rising, which will entail changing needs and expectations on the part of employees (Mayo 1991: 9).

Implications for careers

The highly flexible organisation with flat, adaptable structures and the re-shaped values and expectations of individuals will have profound effects on jobs and careers (Herriot and Pemberton 1996: 758).

Some authors maintain that traditional career definitions are no longer appropriate to describe present realities. The notion of the 21st century career encompasses much more than just the movement up the ladder; career progression can be vertical as well as horizontal, linear as well as cyclical or even static (Heritage 2001: 16). Nicholson and West identified an erosion of the classical career. They don’t regard careers any longer as ladders but as “stories about journeys and routes” (1988: 94) through the broken terrain of organisations.

Guest and Mackenzie (1996: 23), on the other hand, state that not only the traditional hierarchical organisation but also the traditional career “is alive and well.” Their survey of British organisations shows that only organisations in some rapidly changing economic sectors are in a state of permanent and unpredictable transformation. However, even in more stable organisations “the number of opportunities has decreased and the steps between jobs have increased.” Thus, the upward movement within organisations is becoming more difficult. Similarly, Mayo (1991: 309) maintains that changes mainly affect higher management levels, but “underneath are millions who will continue to pursue careers under more or less hierarchical structures.”

However, in the light of the abovementioned changes for many employees careers will not be related to only one single, life-long employer but rather to multiple employers. Movements between organisations are no longer exceptional (Jackson 2000: 13), as flatter organisational structures provide only limited opportunities for promotion.[2] Many careers are becoming less predictable, plannable and orderly.[3]

3. Who should manage careers?

Careers can be managed, i.e. they can be planned and pursued in a systematic way. Basically, there are two perspectives on the management of careers: the invidual and the organisational. These two perspectives arise because organisations and individuals have different goals and motivations with regard to careers (Sandiford 1997: 27).

Greenhaus and Callanan (1994: 15) provide a definition of career management from the individual’s point of view. Accordingly, career management is “an ongoing problem-solving process in which information is gathered, awareness of oneself and the environment is increased, career goals and strategies are developed, and feedback is obtained.” This problem-solving process not only helps individuals to define their career direction but may especially advice them in crucial decisions to be made at various stages of their careers.

The organisational perspective on career management is, on the other hand, represented by Mayo (1991: 69). He defines organisational career management as “the design and implementation of organizational processes which enable the careers of individuals to be planned and managed in a way that optimizes both, the needs of the organization and the preferences and capabilities of individuals.”

Who, then, is responsible for the management of careers in times of rapid and volatile change? The individual or the organisation?


[1] 43% of the surveyed women said that their families and friends are the most important factors of satisfaction, whereas 30% mentioned their careers. The result for men is even more astonishing: 67% ascribe more importance to the family and personal relationships than to job achievements, whereas only 18% regard their careers as dominant. Herriot (1992: 131) maintains that “families, not employees, are stakeholders in the future organisation.”

[2] Empirical evidence for increasing cross-organisational movement of managers is provided by Goffee and Scase (1992: 366). In a management survey, Nicholson and West (1988: 70) established a link between changing employers and career success. They found that managers crossing borders between organisations are “typically successful travellers on the upward spiralling path to managerial success.”

[3] The volatility of managers’ careers has been empirically confirmed by Nicholson and West (1988: 89). Considering recent transformations, Arthur and Rosseau (1996: 6) even predict the emergence of the “boundaryless career” going along with a “widespread career uncertainty” bare of any guaranties for future job progression.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Career Management in times of rapid change
University of Manchester  (Institute for Development Policy and Management)
Grade A
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Career, Management
Quote paper
Marco Köster (Author), 2002, Career Management in times of rapid change, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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