Career Resilience. ERIC Digest.
by Brown, Bettina Lankard
Change in the workplace continues at a rapid pace, affecting careers
and career development. Mergers, acquisitions, reengineering, and downsizing
are influencing employment patterns and altering the career directions
of many. No longer are individuals advised to think in terms of spending
their entire careers in one organization. Rather, they are being led to
recognize the temporary nature of all jobs and the need to prepare themselves
for redefined career paths that require resilience and an ability to be
self-reliant. This Digest defines the concept of career resilience, including
the characteristics of individuals who are career resilient and the characteristics
of organizations that support career resilience.
DEFINITION OF CAREER RESILIENCE
Collard et al. (1996) present several definitions of career resilience.
One of these is "the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, even when
the circumstances are discouraging or disruptive" (p. 33). Another definition
of career resilience is "the result or outcome of being career self-reliant"
(p. 34). Although career self-reliance and career resilience have been
used interchangeably, there is a slight difference in the focus of each
term. Career self-reliance refers to individual career self-management--taking
responsibility for one's own career and growth while maintaining commitment
to the organization's success; career resilience refers to individual career
development--developing the knowledge and skills required to make a visible
and personally motivated contribution to the organization and its customers.
THE NEED FOR CAREER RESILIENCE
The emphasis on the self-management and self-development of one's career
is a reflection of the shift in the unspoken employment agreement between
employers and employees over the last 3 decades. In the 1960s, the employer-employee
relationship was characterized as a parent-child relationship: The organization
provided employment in jobs that were narrowly defined, status in the community,
and job security in exchange for employee hard work, loyalty, and good
performance. Thirty years later, the contract between employer and employee
is a partnership. The emphasis in this new contract is on worker employability
rather than job security. In this contract, employers provide the opportunities,
tools, and support to help employees develop their skills and maintain
their employability; the employees have the responsibility of managing
their careers, taking advantage of the opportunities they are given. Thus,
the employees must be career self-reliant. They must continually update
their skills, looking ahead to the future and to market trends as well
as to the current demands of the workplace (Collard et al. 1996). They
must have a plan for "enhancing their performance and long-term employability"
(Waterman, Waterman, and Collard 1994, p. 88). The new relationship between
employee and employer is described as a contract through which individual
needs and those of the organization are balanced.
CHARACTERISTICS OF CAREER RESILIENCE
The message of the new employer-employee relationship is clear: The
company is not responsible for the job security of its workers. Its job
is to keep the company alive. Thus, workers must be responsible for themselves
(Fox 1996). Koonce (1995) promotes an attitude of self-employment. He advises
that "the best way to stay employed today and in the future is to look
upon yourself as being in business for yourself--even if you work for someone
else" (p. 20). This outlook offers two challenges: know yourself and know
your organization. According to Koonce (1995), workers must know the skills
they have, how those skills are marketable to other employers and industries,
and how they can be updated to keep them in state-of-the-art condition.
They must also know all aspects of the organization they work for as well
as the new roles they might assume in the organization's future.
Taking charge of one's own career requires career resilience. "Individuals
who are career resilient contribute skills aligned with business needs,
are dedicated to continuous learning and committed to personal excellence,
have an attitude that is focused but flexible, and deliver solid performance
in support of organizational goals for as long as they are part of the
organization" (Collard et al. 1996, p. 17).
The characteristics of those who are career resilient reflect the characteristics
identified with employability. Teamwork, effective communication, adaptability
to change, positive and flexible attitudes, continuous learning, self-confidence,
willingness to take risks, and a commitment to personal excellence are
all characteristics identified with employability--which in essence is
what career resilience is all about.
Attitude has a great influence on the ability to become career resilient.
Fox (1995) describes seven attitudes that reflect career self-reliance
and are essential to building career insurance (pp. 62-64): I am either
growing or decaying--there is no middle road; a chaotic organization is
a great place to learn; I must be selective in what I learn; it is possible
to align what I want, what the organization wants, and what the market
wants; I must push to the outer limits and enjoy doing it; I am a unique
business--Me, Inc.; and there are many different pathways to a professional
Flexibility and autonomy are two characteristics of the new psychological
contract between employer and employee that offer benefits of employee
commitment to employers and job satisfaction to employees. Manifested in
the "enlargement of career space," these characteristics fostered by career
resilience offer workers the opportunity to create new work arrangements
that acknowledge the individual's unique place and state in life, including
midlife and beyond (Hall and Mirvis 1995). "You need to be thinking of
the future all the time, about what you want out of your career in the
long term, and about what you can do, each and every day, to help you get
there" (Koonce 1995, p. 23).
ORGANIZATIONS THAT SUPPORT CAREER RESILIENCE
Organizations that support career resilience are committed to working
in partnership with their employees. They offer opportunities for professional
growth and engage their employees in challenging work. Such organizations
foster open communication, including the transfer of both good and bad
news. In the past, employers protected their employees from bad news, such
as declining sales revenue, loss of customers, or high operating expenses.
Today, with many organizations adopting the total quality management process,
employees are made aware of problems up front in the hope they will be
part of the solution. Employees who have a self-employment attitude appreciate
the opportunity to influence their career fates.
Employee growth and development are the primary focus of organizations
that support career resilience. Such organizations "select business opportunities
with growth potential, offer the opportunity to do challenging work, provide
support for continuous learning, give access to development resources (career
development and self-development), foster honest and open communication,
and build an environment that integrates these values into the business
strategy" (Collard et al. 1996, p. 17). Those organizations that are successful
in promoting career resilience help employees regularly assess their skills,
interests, values, and temperaments so that the employees have a better
understanding of themselves and of the opportunities in the organization
that offer them the greatest potential for fulfillment and meaningful contribution
(Waterman, Waterman, and Collard 1994).
Despite concern that organizations that enable their employees to upgrade
their skills and employability will lose them to their competition, employers
who value highly skilled and motivated employees are more likely to retain
them. When people are happy with their organization, they do not leave.
"Any CEO who says he [sic] can't afford to train his employees because
the competition might steal them away is admitting that people wouldn't
work for his company if they had any other choice." (Filipczak 1995, p.
Many companies are establishing career development programs to support
and motivate their employees toward continuous, lifelong learning. At Rosenbluth
Travel in Philadelphia, employees are encouraged to shadow other employees
to learn what they are doing and to join a cross-functional team to find
out what is happening in other departments (Filipczak 1995). Hewlett-Packard
has career centers at some of their sites where employees can "research
jobs that interest them or take assessments to help them discover potential
interests" (ibid., p. 31). In a Cleveland suburb, TRW, Inc. suggests that
workers consider lateral moves (Hequet 1995). "A lateral move is a sound
strategy when an employee want to shift from a slow growing or peripheral
part of an organization to a part poised for expansion" (Kaye and Farren
1996, p. 50).
Amoco Corp. has initiated a career management process to help employees
look beyond the tasks of their jobs to reflect on the marketability of
their skills both inside and outside the company (Hequet 1995). "Eastman
Kodak Co. has tried to align its career development process with company
strategy which involves an annual employee self-assessment and a worker-supervisor
talk about how the worker's skills and experience fit into the big Kodak
picture for the coming year" (ibid., p. 33). General Electric Company's
aircraft engine manufacturing facility has brought its workers into direct
competition with outside vendors. Teams of GE workers "weigh materials,
costs, overhead, benefits, and pay as they compete with outsiders to produce
parts." (ibid., p. 33).
FOSTERING CAREER RESILIENCE
Fostering career resilience is an important part of any career development
effort. Career development professionals and counselors can facilitate
growth toward career resilience. Collard et al. (1996) offer the following
recommendations (p. 39): (1) communicate to clients how workplace changes
require greater individual responsibility for managing one's career; reframe
career development around learning; (2) adopt a wellness/fitness philosophy
of career development; (3) include benchmarking of work content and work
strategy skills as part of career assessments; (4) develop a future focus
and continually scan the environment for emerging trends to be able to
challenge clients' thinking; and (5) practice career self-reliance themselves
by benchmarking their skills against standards of excellence in the field
and personally committing to an ongoing learning and development plan.
The challenge of career self-reliance and career resilience can be frightening
to workers who thrive on employer-provided job security and have high control
needs. However, many of these fears may be allayed as workers see evidence
of their own progress toward career independence. Through continuous learning,
individuals can gain a new sense of control, a new confidence in the timeliness
and utility of their newly acquired knowledge and skills. By benchmarking
their skills and knowledge against the best practices in their field on
an ongoing basis, individuals are better able to assess their employability
and predict the effect general business and industry trends might have
on them and their employing organizations (Collard et al. 1996). In a work
world that is characterized by change, where the metaskills of identity
development and heightened adaptability are in demand, continuous learning
is the path to job security and career health.
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CHANGING WORKPLACE. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and
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