Table 11.3 shows the four career stages: exploration, establishment, maintenance, and disengagement. Each career stage is characterized by developmental tasks, activities, and relationships. Employee retention, motivation, and performance are affected by how well the company addresses the development tasks at each career stage.
Research suggests that employees’ current career stage influences their needs, attitudes, and job behaviors. For example, one study found that salespersons in the exploration career stage tended to change jobs and accept promotions more frequently than did salespersons in other career stages. Another study found that the degree to which employees identify with their job is affected more by the job’s characteristics (e.g., variety of tasks, responsibility for task completion) in early career stages than in later career stages.
In the exploration stage, individuals attempt to identify the type of work that interests them. They consider their interests, values, and work preferences, and they seek information about jobs, careers, and occupations from co-workers, friends, and family members. Once they identify the type of work or occupation that interests them, individuals can begin pursuing the needed education or training. Typically, exploration occurs in the mid-teens to early-to-late 20s (while the individual is still a student in high school, college, or technical school). Exploration continues when the individual starts a new job. In most cases, employees who are new to a job are not prepared to take on work tasks and roles without help and direction from others. In many jobs, the new employee is considered an apprentice. An apprentice is an employee who works under the supervision and direction of a more experienced colleague or manager. From the company’s perspective, orientation and socialization activities are necessary to help new employees get as comfortable as possible with their new jobs and co-workers so they can begin to contribute to the company’s goals.
In the establishment stage, individuals find their place in the company, make an independent contribution, achieve more responsibility and financial success, and establish a desirable lifestyle. Employees at this stage are interested in being viewed as contributors to the company’s success. Employees who have reached the establishment stage are considered to be colleagues. Colleagues are employees who can work independently and produce results. They are less dependent on more experienced employees than those in the exploration stage. They learn how the company views their contributions from informal interactions with peers and managers and from formal feedback received through the performance appraisal system. For employees in this stage, the company needs to develop policies that help balance work and nonwork roles. Also, employees in this stage need to become more actively involved in career-planning activities.
In the maintenance stage, the individual is concerned with keeping skills up to date and being perceived by others as someone who is still contributing to the company. Individuals in the maintenance stage have many years of job experience, much job knowledge, and an in-depth understanding of how the company expects business to be conducted. Employees in the maintenance stage can be valuable trainers or mentors for new employees. A mentor is an experienced employee who teaches or helps less experienced employees.
Maintenance-stage employees may be asked to review or develop company policies or goals. Their opinions about work processes, problems, and important issues that the work unit is facing may be solicited. From the company’s perspective, a major issue is how to keep employees in the maintenance stage from plateauing. Also, the company needs to ensure that employees’ skills do not become obsolete.
To keep its employees from plateauing, General Electric emphasizes career development during its annual performance reviews. During the reviews, employees discuss their goals with their managers. Those discussions are reviewed by operations and human resources personnel, who try to match employees’ career goals (e.g., seeking job changes) with job openings. For example, older and more experienced managers who have knowledge about General Electric and about the people in the business may change jobs to help integrate newly acquired businesses into General Electric. Other managers who have new mobility when their children leave home may be encouraged to take advantage of overseas assignments.
In the disengagement stage, individuals prepare for a change in the balance between work and nonwork activities. They may take on the role of sponsor. A sponsor provides direction to other employees, represents the company to customers, initiates actions, and makes decisions.
Disengagement typically refers to older employees electing to retire and concentrate entirely on nonwork activities such as sports, hobbies, traveling, or volunteer work. However, a survey conducted by Watson Wyatt, an international human resources consulting company, found that three out of four older employees preferred to reduce their work hours gradually rather than face the traditional all-work or no-work type of retirement. For many employees, the disengagement phase means a gradual reduction in work hours. Phased retirement programs help both the employee and the company. The company gets to take advantage of the experienced employees’ knowledge and specialized skills, which might be difficult to replace, while reducing the costs related to hiring and training a new employee. For employees, phased retirement means that they have the opportunity to choose retirement in a way that meets their financial and emotional needs. To capitalize on older employees’ talents, companies need to be flexible—for example, they might offer part-time and consulting work.
Also, keep in mind that regardless of age, employees may elect to leave a company to change occupations or jobs. Some may be forced to leave the company because of downsizing or mergers. Others may leave because of their interests, values, or abilities.
Employees who leave the company often recycle back to the exploration stage. They need information about potential new career areas, and they have to reconsider their career interests and skill strengths. From the company’s perspective, the major career management activities in the disengagement stage are retirement planning and outplacement.
As Table 11.3 shows, an employee’s age and length of time on the job are believed to be good signals of his or her career stage. However, relying strictly on these two characteristics could lead to erroneous conclusions about the employee’s career needs. For example, many changes that older employees make in their careers involve recycling back to an earlier career stage. Recycling involves changing one’s major work activity after having been established in a specific field. Recycling is accompanied by a reexploration of values, skills, interests, and potential employment opportunities. For example, the global entertainment company Cirque du Soleil has a career transition program that helps artistic staff plan for their post-performing years. The program relies on Cirque’s expertise of what skills are needed to work backstage in the entertainment business. Cirque can help artists obtain the training they need for careers as fitness coaches, naturopaths, or makeup artists. A mid-50s corporate manager at General Electric started a new career and a lifelong dream of becoming a fashion designer as a result of taking early retirement. One woman gave up her five-year career teaching fifth graders to work with the importer of Zyr Vodka. While on vacation, this woman agreed to help a friend market a new Russian vodka during a business trip to Las Vegas. The work was very different from what she had been doing, but she found the work interesting and exciting. After the trip, her friend asked her to join the company as vice president. The job did not offer the woman the same security as the teaching job, and she would be taking a pay cut. Despite those negative aspects of the job, she accepted the position and has been working hard to build the brand by meeting with restaurant owners, liquor distributors, and club owners. She finds that working for a small distributor gives her a sense of ownership in the success (or failure) of the business. Also, she enjoys being accountable for all her decisions.
Recycling is not just limited to older employees who are nearing retirement. Many companies that face a serious shortage of qualified employees are developing retraining programs in hopes of filling labor shortages with employees from other fields. Companies are using these training programs to help recycle employees into new jobs and careers. For example, in the computer-help-desk field, companies face a shortage of qualified staff for internal help desks and customer service. Also, many persons with computer skills who seek these positions lack the interpersonal skills needed to give counsel and advice to users of software, databases, and company intranets. The computer consulting industry is training former stockbrokers, flight attendants, and bank tellers to work at help desks. These training programs are referred to as “boot camps” because the training emphasizes total immersion in the job, one-on-one supervision, and cramming into a short training program what knowledge and skills the employee needs to have. It is also not uncommon for employees who are considering recycling to conduct informational interviews with managers and other employees who hold jobs in functional areas they believe may be congruent with their interests and abilities. Employees conduct informational interviews with managers or other employees to gather information about the skills, job demands, and benefits of their jobs. A 30-year-old manager at Intel Corporation was unhappy with her job as a consumer marketing manager. To find new job opportunities, she conducted informational interviews with managers and had discussions with colleagues at work. She also researched different departments, such as corporate communications, and searched Intel’s intranet for job information. Because she was interested in education, she also looked outside Intel for opportunities at universities, educational software firms, and toy companies. She found a job as a program marketing manager with Intel’s worldwide education group.
Stan Alger provides a good example of the concept of recycling in the career stage model. For 30 years, Alger worked as a factory sales representative for a bicycle company in the San Francisco area. However, Alger often thought about working for Home Depot, the home improvement retailer. Alger enjoyed looking at the gadgets in the Home Depot store in his area and finding materials for his home projects. After his employer changed ownership, Alger quit his job. At age 59, he now works part-time at Home Depot. He enjoys helping people learn to use tools. “When you tell them how, and you see that light click on in their eyes, it’s kind of fun,” he says.
Employees bring a range of career development issues to the workplace. Besides developing policies and programs that will help employees deal with their specific career development issues (in order to maximize their level of career motivation), companies need to provide a career management system to identify employees’ career development needs. A career management system helps employees, managers, and the company identify career development needs. Research shows that career management systems that provide employees with career advice and help them meet important people in the company can lead to employees who are more committed to the company and can have a positive influence on employees’ job performance.