by Joy Townsend

Given an increasingly competitive labour market – managing one’s career is more pressing than ever. Gen Y/millennials and Gen Z employees are told they can no longer expect the job security that earlier generations took for granted. We are regularly confronted with the realities of the world of work in the 21st century – increased job insecurity, corporate downsizings and outsourcing, an overall lack of permanence in jobs, new technology, and the globalisation of business.There is no shortage of advice on how to successfully manage your career- with books dedicated to the subject, podcasts and TED talks. A quick google search brings up multiple articles professing that the secrets to managing your career can be found by following eight steps, or seven strategies, or adhering to these fundamentals to succeed at your career. Most of them agree on one thing – ‘a successful career requires managing the person in the mirror’ (https://www.nytimes.com/guides/business/manage-your-career).

So, what has been proven to enhance an individual’s ability to successfully manage their career?

Career management research has repeatedly linked ‘psychologically empowered’ employees to career success. The term ‘psychological empowerment’ has evolved through a number of schools of thought over the last 30 years. Spreitzer developed and empirically validated a multidimensional measure of psychological empowerment in the workplace – outlining the following four dimensions:

Meaningfulness – refers to a sense of purpose or personal connection to work. Psychologically empowered employees feel that their work is important to them and they care about what they are doing. A meaningful work culture is especially key for millennial employees.

Competence – reflects individuals’ beliefs that they have the necessary skills and abilities to perform their work well. It directly influences an individual’s ‘performance currency’ – defined as the goodwill, positive reputation, and capital you create by executing your job well – the ability to deliver on what is asked of you, plus a little extra.

Self-determination – refers to a sense of freedom about how individuals do their work. This is another key to millennial employees’ career satisfaction – ‘flexible schedules, time off, and embracing the latest technology to communicate are important for Gen Y’.

Impact – refers to the belief that individuals can influence the system in which they are embedded.

Recent research has linked empowering leadership to employees’ psychological empowerment. Within career literature, empowering supervisor/leader behaviours – defined as providing employees with the confidence, inspiration, and authority to assume control of their work lives – have been positively related to employees’ psychological empowerment. Findings have demonstrated that employees with an empowering leader are more likely to demonstrate agile career management behaviour and navigate their own career goals. Further, empowering employees to manage their own careers is a significant predictor of career satisfaction and success among Gen Y and Z employees and may assist in the retention of qualified employees (Arogundade and Arogundade, 2015).

Lastly, careers research has long identified the importance of peers for employees’ career success (Seibert et al., 2001). A recent study exploring the sources individuals draw on for career management found peer-based vicarious learning to be a key resource for career self-efficacy. And relationship currency— time invested in the people in your environment — is an invaluable resource for career success: ‘Relationship currency never experiences diminishing returns’. Author and Wall Street veteran Carla Harris reminds us that the workplace is not a 100% meritocratic environment: ‘meritocracy is really just a myth… there is a human element involved in the equation’. Harris emphasises the need for a ‘sponsor’ for an employee’s career success. Defined as a person who will speak on your behalf, a sponsor spends their political and social capital on you –‘carrying your interests into the top-level, closed-door meetings you’re not invited to’ (yet).

Surprisingly, in corporate environments, women have been found to over invest in performance currency at the expense of relationship currency. The next career management post will focus on relationship currency and women.

AROGUNDADE, O. T. & AROGUNDADE, A. B. 2015. Psychological Empowerment in the Workplace: Implications for Employees’ Career Satisfaction. North American Journal of Psychology,17.  

SEIBERT, S., KRAIMER, M. & LIDEN, R. 2001. A social capital theory of career success. Academy of Management Journal,44,219. 

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