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3 obstacles for sustainable career management
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3 obstacles for sustainable career management

Where do things get stuck when moving from traditional to sustainable career management? Sustainable career management is becoming increasingly important. Careers are dynamic, individual, and no longer organization-specific. We suggest six characteristics of sustainable career management, and elaborate on three major obstacles.
Ans devos
by Ans De Vos, PhD | November 9, 2016
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Blog Sustainable Careers

6 characteristics of sustainable career management

1. Employability and workability

Attention must be paid to the potential of employees to evolve horizontally or vertically in the internal job market. But employability starts with giving attention to how employees can grow in their current job and continue to experience dynamism. Workability means that the work remains achievable over time for both organization and employee.

2. Eye on the future

There has to be a good balance between reacting only to the problems of the here and now, and taking initiative with attention to the longer term.

3. Inclusive approach

A broader perspective on all employees in the organization creates opportunities to reach solutions internally rather than looking outside the organization.

4. Customized

An open view of careers makes talking about career development easy. This mobilizes the employee to enter into a conversation about their career and to take a more active role in it themselves.

5. Self-guidance

Employees must learn to think for themselves about their career values and competencies. It is important that both organization and employee realize that careers should not remain within the boundaries of the company, a so-called "boundaryless career mindset."

6. Supporting practices.

One must include practices that guide the employee in career development, and guide the manager to include this support.

I-deals: the first obstacle

Idiosyncratic deals - I-deals - are voluntary, personalized agreements between employer and employee that differ from what is standardly possible within the organization.

The difficulty, however, is ensuring that employees know that I-deals are an option, even with a view to a future outside the organization. Most I-deals are made in the context of individual flexibility in terms of working hours and ways of working, but more attention should be paid to I-deals that tailor development opportunities to individual needs. Also, I-deals are often limited to a particular target group, namely critical talent, rather than being applied in an inclusive approach.

Career self-guidance and I-deals are strongly related. The challenge for organizations lies in both guiding employees in their individual careers and preparing for a growing demand for customized careers.

I-deals imply a win-win, therefore positive results for the organization as well. It is not just a "gift" to employees. But this requires that you, as an organization, make the exercise within which boundaries I-deals are possible, and if necessary, create a structure of possibilities within which customization is possible. This also makes it easier and more acceptable for managers to discuss individual career needs.

Guidance: the second obstacle

This brings us to the next obstacle: in-house career guidance, or the processes and practices that support and guide employees in their career self-guidance within the organization. Much of this guidance takes place between the employee and the immediate manager.

But is the manager the best person to lead this conversation? On the one hand, the manager can better assess the employee and the broader context in the organization. However, research shows that in few cases does management share HR's vision when it comes to good career management. This shared vision does not come naturally.

It is important for both HR and employee and management that there is a shared vision of career management within the organization. Managers need to know what is expected of them when it comes to career guidance, because both HR and employee often count on the manager to take on this role.

A "Boundaryless Career Mindset" in large and small organizations

However, career counseling can be very different depending on the size of the organization. The main difference is the "boundaryless career mindset."

Larger organizations generally have a greater focus on an internal labor market, and consequently a more traditional view of careers. Despite this traditional view, more employees here do feel that their careers are not bound by the boundaries of the organization. Rather, employee initiative is the problem.

Small organizations have more individual career counseling in the form of I-deals and coaching, but because they are so dependent on their human capital, career management is sometimes used as a retention tool. This causes the organizations to follow less of a "boundaryless career mindset," while employees follow this mindset more given the limited internal job market.

Some suggestions for dealing with this:

  • Abandon defining careers in traditional terms such as "career ladders" and "promotions."
  • Know what the goal is: retention or keeping human capital employability high? Recognize the distinction and be consistent in practices.

Think outside the boundaries of the internal labor market and frame career management within a broader psychological contract.

Career policy is the focus of the SD Worx chair "Next Generation Work: Creating Sustainable Careers". Our recommendations came from the large-scale "career breakthrough research" that Antwerp Management School conducted together with SD Worx in 2012, in which we looked for the pillars of a career policy that works. The 2012 survey was a great success: as many as 789 organizations in Belgium participated.

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