This article considers the relationship between the internal motivation of people and their career development. The discussion centers on what has been theorized and researched connecting the internal drivers of behavior and decision making to career outcomes and career satisfaction.
Generally, motivation can be defined as a force or energy that exists within a person and influences effort, directs behaviors, and ultimately affects performance and other individual outcomes. Researchers believe the importance of personal motivation in career development has grown in recent years for a variety of reasons. For example, work roles have become more flexible, less well-defined, and subject to increasing change both within organizations and across the span of a career, which often involves multiple organizations. Career transitions appear to be more frequent and involve larger qualitative differences than in years past. These more significant qualitative differences reflect a transition from one career to another, for example, a person moving from an occupation as an engineer to one as a teacher.
Self-management of one’s own career development is seen as increasingly important in this more uncertain environment. Individuals are being urged to take responsibility for their own careers not only by the popular press and career counselors but also by the organizations in which they presently reside. Researchers have argued that people want to feel in control of the direction of their own careers, with a sense that they can significantly impact their own destinies. However, this desire varies across individuals, and some find the prospect of having control of their own destinies frightening in what seems to be an increasingly uncertain world. The direction and intensity of personal motivation to influence one’s career development varies across individuals. Personal motivation and career self-direction affect not only career success but also other factors, such as mental health and life satisfaction.
One well-known early theory relevant to the topic of motivation and career development was presented by Donald E. Super in his classic book The Psychology of Careers, in which he discussed the course and cycle of an individual’s working life. In the exploration stage, a person develops a self-concept. In the establishment stage, the self-concept is implemented. The maintenance stage involves an individual preserving or being nagged by a self-concept. The years of decline involve a person’s adjustment to aging and a new sense of oneself.
Recent researchers have emphasized careers as involving multiple, short learning cycles over one’s life span. An individual’s career can be viewed as a series of ministages of exploration, trial, mastery, and exit across functions and organizations. New cycles are motivated by constant learning and mastery. Douglas T. Hall and associates have argued that a shift has occurred from the organizational career to the “protean career.” From this perspective, careers are seen as driven by the person, not the organization. In addition, careers are reinvented by the individual over time as the person and environment change. In this sense, the career of the twenty-first century is not measured by chronological age and stages in life, but by continuous learning and identity changes. Thus, during a model career in the twenty-first century, growth is motivating and involves a process of continuous learning fueled by a combination of personal characteristics, work challenges, and relationships. The following is a further description of the protean career and what motivates the individual’s career development.
The protean career is a process managed by the individual, not the organization. It consists of all of a person’s experiences gained through school, training, various organizations, and changes in occupations. The person’s own career choices and search for self-fulfillment are the unifying themes in life. Success is not externally defined, but consists of the person’s internal sense of success. Career development involves continuous learning and is self-directed, relational, and found in work challenges. The individual is motivated in this process to achieve the goal of psychological success (as defined below). The most important motivator of learning for the individual is the fact that the “new career contract” is not with the organization, but with oneself and one’s work. Success is described in terms of one’s unique vision and the fulfillment of central values in life that allow one to arrive at psychological success.
Psychological success involves the feeling of satisfaction, pride, and accomplishment that comes from achieving the most important goals in one’s life. These goals are not just work related and can be varied. They could include, for example, achievement, family happiness, inner peace, fulfillment in a hobby, or other life goals. To realize the potential of the protean career, a person must develop new competencies related to managing oneself and one’s career. A person must be motivated to develop self-knowledge and adaptability in a continuous learning process. This motivation profile is viewed as fitting the demands of the twenty-first century, with a shift from those with “know-how” to those with the motivation and capability to “learn how.” The more an individual can learn how to adapt to changes in the work environment and to continuously grow and evolve as the world changes, the more the person is “learning how to learn.” To achieve success, a person will need to be motivated to be adaptable as well as have a sense of identity concerning life goals. From this perspective, adaptability and identity are more important than basic skills and knowledge. The motivation and capability to learn how to learn will be essential to success in the self-directed protean career. The protean career is seen as dominating in the twenty-first century, and those motivated by continuous learning, with a clear understanding of their life goals, are viewed as well-positioned for success.
Recently, Hall and Dawn E. Chandler expanded on the concepts of the protean career and psychological success in their research on careers as a calling. A calling can be viewed as work that a person perceives as his or her life purpose. From this perspective, the person evaluates work from a subjective self-referent view of career meaning. The calling comes from intrinsic motivation that is not driven by instrumental goals. For this type of individual, what can be termed the subjective career is the most pertinent perspective from which different facets of their own career can be evaluated. Career research cannot ignore the subjective career to the extent that it has in the past. This is particularly true given today’s turbulent career environment, in which individuals are less dependent on organizational career arrangements. In this environment, an individual must have the intrinsic motivation to be an adaptable and able learner in the pursuit of his or her calling.
Hall and Chandler have observed that when an individual is motivated by a career calling, subjective measures are critical to an understanding of success. Psychological success in a career develops in cycles, as the result of setting and attaining challenging goals. A sense of psychological success is likely to be felt when the person independently sets and expends effort toward a challenging and personally meaningful goal and then attains that goal. When faced with difficult task situations, people with a sense of purpose will more likely be able to manage setbacks, because they will believe that, ultimately, they will succeed.
Hall and Chandler proposed a model of a success cycle involving a sense of purpose or calling, self-confidence, goals and effort, objective and subjective success, and identity change. For example, when people experience their career as a calling, they will have a strong focus on goals that reflect that purpose. As a result of this goal clarity, they will expend the effort needed to succeed and carry out the calling. Objective success will lead to subjective success, a more competent self-identity, and self-confidence. The new sense of competence will reinforce one’s sense of calling. Thus, the development of the career calling is an ongoing, cyclical process involving the exploration of personal goals, trial efforts, and reflections on success.
Dimensions of Motivation and Careers
Manuel London and associates have researched career motivation and its dimensions for more than 20 years. They have postulated and found empirical support for three basic dimensions of career motivation: resilience, insight, and identity. Career resilience provides the personal drive to keep trying in the face of obstacles and career barriers. When faced with a difficult situation, career resiliency enables a person to persevere. In addition, resiliency allows the individual to adapt to changing circumstances, even when these circumstances are frustrating, discouraging, or disruptive. Career resilience is built on a belief in oneself, need for achievement, a willingness to take risks, and working either independently or cooperatively depending on what the situation requires.
Career insight means having a strong understanding of oneself and the work environment. When career insight is well developed, the person has a keen and accurate sense of his or her strengths and weaknesses and elements in the environment that support or block his or her ability to perform in that situation. Career insight is the ability to be realistic about oneself and one’s career, without delusion. Insight enables accurate assessments and perceptions, which are put to use to establish and pursue career goals. London has referred to insight as the spark that energizes people to act, with resilience keeping the spark alive.
Career identity channels a person’s energy, behavior, and performance toward a specific set of career objectives. Moreover, career identity involves the extent to which a person defines himself or herself by work. Career identity encompasses task, job, organizational, and professional involvement. Driving forces for a person with a strong career identity include the needs for achievement and advancement, recognition and accomplishment, and a desire to take a leadership role.
The three components of career motivation are complementary. Resilience, which provides the strength and courage to keep trying and moving forward even in the face of obstacles and setbacks, is the foundation that allows meaningful career insight to develop. Insight, the energizing component developed through experiences and reflection, then allows the individual to choose and pursue a career direction that uses his or her talents to the fullest. Work life and career development will naturally involve encountering obstacles and barriers. Career barriers will cause individuals to question their career identities and rethink career insight up to that point in their career development. How constructive this process is for long-term career success depends largely on career resilience. Resilience will enable an individual to realistically assess a career barrier and determine constructive coping strategies for the situation. Resilience, then, provides the foundation for enabling useful insights into oneself and the work environment. Career resilience is the essential component of career motivation facilitating the individual’s ability to not only develop career insight and identity but also cope effectively with career obstacles and barriers.
Empirical research has provided support for the three dimensions of resilience, insight, and identity as three distinct components of career motivation. Using the career resilience, insight, and identity framework, four patterns of career development have been identified: (1) healthy development, (2) redirection, (3) intervening self-doubt, and (4) breaking away from an ineffective pattern.
In addition, London noted that the concepts of career resilience, insight, and identity can be related to concepts in other career theories. For example, John L. Holland related how career decisions are affected by the ability to face barriers and the need for information, reassurance, and vocational identity. Career insight can be related to Donald Super’s “vocational self-concept crystallization.” Career identity can be conceptually tied to the concepts of work commitment, organizational commitment, and organizational citizenship. Also, each of the three career motivation concepts can be found in Hall’s model of career identification. In the career identification model, the importance of career to the person (career identity) depends on self-knowledge of one’s inclinations (career insight) and career success (which enhances self-confidence, part of career resiliency). Career resilience is also linked to the concepts of hardiness, self-efficacy, achievement motivation, and career maturity. Career resilience can also be linked to the concepts of flexibility, perseverance, and reactiveness in work adjustment theory.
London and associates also developed-theory on the relationship of career motivation to situational characteristics. Specifically, reinforcement contingencies are seen to develop career resilience. Reinforcement for good performance, opportunities to achieve, and an environment supportive of risk taking all contribute to the development of career resilience. Information processing contributes to the development of career insight and career identity. An environment in which a person is encouraged to set goals and in which information about career opportunities within the organization is provided contributes to career insight. An organization that provides abundant opportunities for self-development and opportunities for advancement in the organization and in which there are expert role models with whom to identify and learn from contributes to increased career identity.
The concept of career self-management is closely related to the topic of personal motivation and career development. One perspective on career management has been provided by Raymond A. Noe, who noted that many human resource professionals have advocated career management to improve a person’s motivation. In the literature, career management, developmental behavior, and performance are believed to be linked. The process of career management consists of career exploration, development of career goals, and using career strategies to achieve career goals. Vocational psychologists developed the theory of exploratory behavior, on which the concept of career exploration is based. Career exploration involves collecting information about one’s values, interests, and strengths and weaknesses. The behaviors involved can include both mental and physical activities that provide information about oneself or the environment. Studies have shown that career exploration is related to developmental behavior, including participation in seminars and the acceptance of mobility opportunities.
The second aspect of career management from Noe’s perspective is the development of career goals. Goal-setting theory has been used to provide insight into the development of career goals. Goal-setting theory postulates that goals influence behavior by focusing attention, stimulating and maintaining effort, and facilitating the development of approaches for goal attainment. Having career goals may be an important determining factor in developmental behavior and a person’s willingness to participate in developmental activities. Goals can influence the individual to engage in behaviors and activities in order to improve on skills and address weaknesses. The more focused people’s career goals are, the more likely they will be to engage in behaviors to reach them and the greater their motivation to participate in developmental activities. Career goals are also believed to be positively related to a person’s performance.
The third aspect of career management from Noe’s perspective is the use of career strategies to achieve career goals. A career strategy is a behavior or activity that increases the probability of career goal attainment. Examples of career strategies include participating in a mentoring relationship or developing skills and competencies. A person’s use of career strategies is likely to stimulate additional developmental behaviors. The entire career management process is likely to be influenced by a person’s age, position, and the manager’s support for developmental activities. These factors are also likely to influence a person’s developmental behavior and performance.
Noe’s empirical research provided limited support for the relationships discussed above. The research did support the idea that an individual’s motivation to participate in developmental behaviors was related to environmental exploration. The relevant factors of environmental exploration include seeking career-related information from peers, managers, and other sources. In addition, management support was significantly related to developmental behavior.
Researcher Zella King has provided a thorough discussion of the nature of career self-management as well as its causes and consequences. From King’s perspective, career self-management is seen as heightening a person’s perception of control over his or her career and leading to career satisfaction. However, career self-management may also be associated with negative outcomes and maladjustment. From the career self-management perspective, a person is seen as using three types of self-managing behaviors as adaptive responses to career development issues: positioning, influence, and boundary management. When these three types of behaviors are used to respond to or eliminate career barriers successfully, constructive vocational adjustment occurs. The career self-management perspective builds on earlier research by John O. Crites on vocational adjustment in order to revise and update vocational adjustment theory to provide a more contemporary perspective.
Earlier vocational adjustment theory argued that people are motivated either by internal or external forces to behave in certain ways in their jobs. For example, an individual might endeavor to seek acceptance from others, attempt to achieve recognition and status, or work at being granted greater autonomy in a job. When people are stymied in their attempts to achieve outcomes they desire either by external circumstances such as frustration or internal conflicts such as competing desires and internal conflicts, they will attempt to adjust by eliminating the obstacles or reducing the tension experienced. If the individuals are effective in their responses, they will succeed at vocational readjustment and experience a feeling of success and job satisfaction. However, if responses to the difficulties are not successful in overcoming the problems they face, they will continue to experience frustration and conflict and can be considered vocationally maladjusted. From a career development perspective, the motivation to achieve vocational adjustment occurs over the entire course of a career, from the first job to retirement. Naturally, the contexts in which they occur, the nature of the challenges faced, and the responses of the individual will vary across the span of his or her working life.
Importantly, recent perspectives have emphasized that understanding career development must include consideration of an individual’s personal life in addition to working life. A total picture of career self-management must include a person’s life desires outside of work. A comprehensive career management perspective includes a consideration of adjustments made by an individual to deal with total life desires, including work, family, leisure, spiritual pursuits, and other areas of life important to the individual.
As noted above, King has described career self-management as a dynamic process involving the three types of co-occurring behaviors, namely, positioning, influence, and boundary management. Positioning involves behaviors aimed at making sure the individual has the contacts, skills, and experience to achieve his or her desired career outcomes. Influence involves behaviors aimed at actively trying to affect the decisions of key individuals important for the person to be able to achieve desired outcomes. Boundary management involves attempts to balance the demands of work and nonwork activities important in one’s life. Each of these three types of behavior may be rationally and consciously planned by following a clear path, or they may be improvised as demands arise through various situations encountered over time. In any case, positioning, influence, and boundary maintenance can be considered basic elements of career management; each one is intended either to eliminate external challenges that would otherwise prevent a person from achieving desired career outcomes or to address internal sources of conflict between roles.
The three types of career management behaviors can be viewed as driven by three determinants: self-efficacy, desire for control, and career anchors. In other words, self-efficacy, desire for control, and career anchors are the underlying reasons that explain why career management behaviors are initiated in the first place. Each concept has a prominent place as a behavioral construct in the management and psychology literature. Self-efficacy refers to the belief of a person that he or she can effectively perform the behaviors required in a particular situation. With respect to desire for control, career self-managing behaviors are seen as producing responses aimed at increasing a person’s perceived control over his or her career. Career anchors can be viewed as higher-order goals or career orientations. They are basic organizing principles that guide an individual’s career-related decisions, driving and constraining choices about how to achieve desired career outcomes.
Motivation and Career-Enhancing Strategies
Ghulam R. Nabi researched motivational factors to predict career-enhancing strategies. Career-enhancing strategies consist of behaviors that are not part of the formal job description specified by the organization. Many researchers believe that career-enhancing strategies are beneficial to an individual’s career management and do contribute to positive career outcomes. They include expertise development, self-nomination, and networking. Self-nomination refers to, for example, promoting one’s aspirations and desire for advancement as a means for attaining greater job responsibility. Networking refers to building a network of organizational contacts to gain information, power, and support in order to enhance one’s career. The motivational attributes used to predict career-enhancing strategies include advancement motivation and work/career centrality. Research results indicate that advancement motivation is positively related to expertise development and self-nomination. These results provide support for the belief that advancement-motivated people tend to be intrinsically motivated to channel their energy to include career-enhancing strategies. In addition, work-related centrality has been found to be positively related to expertise development and networking. People who consider work to be a central part of their lives (and are therefore presumably career oriented) were found to have higher levels of self-nomination of their aspirations and abilities to those higher up in the organizational hierarchy and also to engage in more networking. The results are consistent with prior research emphasizing that employees who tend to consider work and career the most central part of their lives are motivated to use career strategies more frequently than those for whom work/career is less central.
Motivation and Mentoring
Rachel Day and Tammy D. Allen have done research that they believe is the first to reveal connections between mentoring, career self-efficacy, career motivation, and protege career success. These researchers used the career motivation framework (consisting of career resilience, career insight, and career identity) developed by London. Career motivation is viewed as one factor in explaining the benefits proteges realize from mentoring relationships. The results showed that proteges reported more career motivation than did non-proteges and that career motivation mediated the relationship between career mentoring and protege performance.
This research built on earlier research that found that employees with managers who were supportive, provided clear performance feedback, encouraged subordinates to set career goals, and exhibited other mentor-type behaviors were more likely to report high levels of career motivation than employees who did not have such managers. Building on this line of research, Day and Allen found that people who were mentored did report higher levels of career motivation than those who had not been mentored. In addition, people receiving more mentoring had greater career motivation. In this research, individuals who received more career mentoring reported greater self-efficacy. The researchers concluded that career-mentoring activities such as encouraging the protege to take challenging assignments and providing coaching and exposure may reinforce protege feelings that he or she is capable and competent. Furthermore, career motivation was found to be related to career success.
Specifically, career motivation was positively related to an individual’s salary, subjective reports of career success, and performance.
This article examined research relevant to intrinsic motivation and career development. Researchers believe that personal motivation as a driver of career development has become increasingly important for a variety of reasons. These include the fact that tasks, jobs, and occupations have become more flexible, less well-defined, and subject to increasing change both within organizations and across the span of a career that often involves multiple organizations. The role of internal motivation is critical in understanding individual behavior and decision making in these circumstances.
Specific research relevant to this topic includes several different research streams. One is the career stages theory of adult development. This life span approach describes how an individual’s self-concept impacts vocational choices. Stages in this theory include exploration, establishment, maintenance, and disengagement. More recent research emphasizes a shift from the organizational career to the protean career. From this perspective, careers are seen as driven by the person, not the organization. In addition, protean careers are reinvented by the individual over time as the person and environment change. The motivation and capabilities to “learn how to learn” will be essential to success in the self-directed protean career. Recent conceptualizations of the protean career and psychological success have been extended to research on a career as a calling. A calling can be viewed as work that an individual perceives as his or her life purpose. From this perspective, the person evaluates work from a subjective self-referent view of career meaning.
Research on the specific dimensions of individual motivation related to career development has postulated and found empirical support for three basic dimensions. These dimensions are resiliency, insight, and identity. Career resiliency provides the personal drive to keep trying in the face of obstacles and career barriers. Career insight means having a strong understanding of oneself and the work environment. Career identity channels a person’s energy, behavior, and performance toward a specific set of career objectives. Moreover, career identity involves the extent to which a person defines himself or herself according to work. The concept of career self-management is also closely related to the topic of personal motivation and career development. The process of career management can be viewed as consisting of career exploration, development of career goals, and using career strategies to achieve career goals.
Another perspective emphasizes three types of self-managing behaviors as adaptive responses to career development issues. These three types are positioning, influence, and boundary management. When these three types of behaviors are used to respond to or eliminate thwarting conditions or career barriers successfully, constructive vocational adjustment occurs. Career-enhancing strategies belong to a related area of research. They consist of behaviors that are not part of the formal job description specified by the organization. Many researchers believe that career-enhancing strategies are beneficial to an individual’s career management and do contribute to positive career outcomes. Career-enhancing strategies include expertise development, self-nomination, and networking. Mentoring and career motivation have been part of another area of investigation. Research results show that proteges reported more career motivation than did non-proteges and that career motivation mediated the relationship between career mentoring and protege performance. As the nature of tasks, jobs, and occupations continues to evolve and change, motivation will continue to be an important area of research for understanding successful career development.
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