Over the last 15 years, an increasing number of external shocks to the labour markets have destabilised the environmental context in which organisations operate, making employment arrangements less predictable, and resulting in an increasingly boundaryless career environment for many individuals.
The authors of the present study argue that – to navigate such an environment, and to cope with its demands - individuals need to build psychological capacities, such as optimism. This perspective represents a slight shift in career research perspectives, in that it considers not only social capital, but also psychological capital to be of increasing importance for individuals working in today’s boundaryless career environment. Their study examines how the timing, amount, and kind of support provided by individuals’ developmental relationships, can impact their optimism several years later.
Monica Higgins, Shoshana R. Dobrow, and Kathryn S. Roloff surveyed 108 students in a top 20 USA East Coast MBA program, at four points in time, over 10 years (1996–2006). Across these 10 years, the surveyed individuals changed organisations three to four times on average, indicating the extent to which their working lives would meet the criteria of boundaryless careers. At each data collection point, the respondents were surveyed about their current beliefs and expectations about the future (optimism), and were asked to provide information about their current developmental network.
The relationship between developmental network strength variables and optimism was examined using multiple regression models. Cross-sectional analyses revealed that the amount of psychosocial support, but not career support, received by the respondents was positively associated with optimism. Longitudinal relational data suggested that the more early-career psychosocial and career support the individual received, the greater their optimism later in their career. The same was true for the rate of change in developmental network support over time: Increasing amounts of career and psychosocial support over time was associated with greater optimism several years later. The authors controlled for gender, age at the beginning of the study, level of education attained prior to business school, and trait-level self-esteem.
The authors conclude that the psychosocial support received by developers may strengthen and protect the individual’s ability to successfully navigate this new career environment, and that individuals may benefit from actively seeking and sustaining such relationships: “Individuals who continue to cultivate developmental relationships over the course of their careers may be better positioned in terms of withstanding inevitable career risks, stress, and hardships in today’s career environment”.
Beyond this, the study also illustrates that the completely self-directed approach implied by early boundaryless careers research may not paint a complete picture, and that a certain interdependence between individuals’ careers and their developmental networks and broader environments must be considered.
Image courtesy of Mesaba.
Higgins, M., Dobrow, S., & Roloff, K. (2010). Optimism and the boundaryless career: The role of developmental relationships Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31 (5), 749-769 DOI: 10.1002/job.693