Icon info
We need (more) flexible careers
Back to overview
Flexibele loopbanen
Sustainable careers
Talent & labor organization

We need (more) flexible careers

Due to the unpredictable and rapidly changing context, a flexible labor market is more important today than ever. For example, the corona crisis has shown that flexibility was needed to keep employees employed and organizations running. Our employer surveys show that in just about one in five organizations, employees were hired in other departments.
by Ans De Vos, PhD, Roosmarij Clercx, Lorenzo Andolfi | September 27, 2021
Share item
Flexibele loopbanen

Discourse versus reality?

This contrasts with what we observed in our first survey in 2012. Back then, too, the importance of "the right person in the right place" and a commitment to talent development were emphasized. At the same time, the vast majority (more than 90%) of surveyed employers stated that keeping employees and ensuring continuity were two important objectives of their career policy. Career policies thus largely coincided with retention policies - which may (unintentionally) lead to stability rather than flexibility.

Even today, despite calls for more flexible careers, our labor market is primarily characterized by stability. Figures from the Steunpunt Werk show that the average job seniority among employees in Belgium between the ages of 15 and 64 hovers around 11 years. This figure has virtually remained unchanged in ten years. So employees are still staying put. We also see this in longitudinal research by SD Worx, based on payroll data of 176,768 white-collar workers at 18,823 employers between 2009 and 2019: 60% remained with the same employer during this period. Moreover, this stability increases with age - while in a context of longer careers it is precisely important to create dynamics throughout one's career.

We also see this reflected in how employees view their careers. Even though most feel that they are in the driving seat of their own career, many primarily see their current employer as the playing field for that career. The good news is that employees do look within their own organizations for opportunities to develop themselves further or to take internal career steps.

Career breakthrough survey - employees: 2012 : 44% "I aspire to stay with the same employer my entire career." 2020 : 55% "I would prefer to stay with the same employer my entire career."

Commitment to internal dynamics

At the same time, employers are still missing many opportunities here. In 2016 for example, more than seven in 10 employers surveyed stated that it is common for their people to stay in the same job for years.

To achieve more flexible careers, encouraging more dynamism within jobs and organizations is a critical first step. Doing so not only avoids long-term employment at the expense of flexibility. It also provides opportunities for organizational continuity.

Here it comes down to facilitating dynamic careers rather than managing them. This means stimulating and supporting employees to leave the comfort zone of their current job and gain new experiences throughout their career. This does not have to mean a change of job right away - you can also create dynamics by working on temporary projects, internal internships, new assignments in the current job, or by encouraging teams to regularly redistribute tasks.

"The mission of the organization to guide employees in that internal mobility is essential, but at the same time it is a difficult role that is not given to everyone. Technologies such as intelligent marketplace tools that suggest projects or jobs that perfectly match employees' talents and preferences can undoubtedly support managers in that role but never 100% replace them."

— Lorenzo Andolfi, SD Worx

Three steps to more flexible careers

  1. Focus on dynamics inside and outside the current job: career mobility is also about gaining new experiences in the job itself, participating in temporary projects, or internal internships
  2. Identify the internal barriers that prevent mobility - both in HR practices (For example, how does the wage policy prevent mobility?) and mentally (What is the perception of employees and managers about what a career entails? What uncertainties or concerns are there?).
  3. Look over the wall: collaboration with other employers allows employees to gain new career experiences - which can benefit their long-term employability.

Share article

About the authors

Roosmarij Clercx

Lorenzo Andolfi

Related content

Boogkeers campus AMS management school

AMS insights