Career engagement: investigating intraindividual predictors of weekly fluctuations in proactive career behaviors.

Author:Hirschi, Andreas
Position:Articles - Report

For several years, the careers literature (Arnold & Jackson, 1997) has stressed that people need to become increasingly self-directed in their career management, implying a lifelong process of proactively shaping one's work experiences. Consequentially, proactive career behaviors (e.g., career planning, networking, exploration) are essential for attaining objective and subjective career success (Zikic & Klehe, 2006). Such career engagement (i.e., the degree to which somebody is proactively exhibiting different career behaviors to enhance his or her career development) is therefore of great theoretical and organizational importance. Moreover, career engagement is also becoming more important within the career counseling practice. Career counseling is more and more moving beyond focusing on career decision making and is increasingly concerned with getting clients engaged in proactive career management (Greenhaus, Callanan, & Godshalk, 2010).

However, although both the theoretical and practical importance of career engagement have been demonstrated, the underlying factors that promote career engagement have not been clearly established. Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies (e.g., Rogers, Creed, & Glendon, 2008) have shown that personal (e.g., neuroticism, career decision-making self-efficacy) and environmental factors (e.g., perceived career barriers, social support) affect interindividual differences in career engagement, for example, in terms of career planning and exploration. Whereas such previous research is important to explain why some people show higher levels of career engagement than others do, the research has its limitations: It provides information only on differences between individuals. For example, if a person receives more social support compared with other people, does he or she also report more career engagement compared with other individuals? However, in career development theory and practice, researchers are also often interested in what will happen within a given person (i.e., intraindividual processes) and not just across a set of persons (i.e., interindividual processes). For example, a career counselor might wonder whether an increased amount of social support for a given client will lead to increased career engagement for this client. Such knowledge on within-individual change is pivotal for increasing the theoretical understanding of engagement in self-directed career management and for the practice of career interventions. However, the currently available studies do not address what factors affect within-individual change in career engagement because they focus on between-person effects.

Our study addresses this issue by investigating how intraindividual differences in motivational and social-cognitive factors affect weekly intraindividual changes in career engagement among university students. We specifically examined repeated measures data, which were assessed for 13 consecutive weeks regarding the intraindividual effects of career self-efficacy, perceived career barriers, perceived social career support, and experienced positive and negative emotions on within-individual changes in career engagement. In contrast to extant research that investigates traits and relatively stable states as predictors and consequences of career management, we conceptualize career engagement and different motivational and social-cognitive factors as malleable states that can change from one week to the next. Specifically, we are interested in how weekly within-individual deviations from averages in motivational and social-cognitive factors affect weekly fluctuations in career engagement. In this way, our study provides a microlevel perspective of the intraindividual processes that shape an individual's amount of career engagement over relatively short time periods.

Motivational and Social-Cognitive Predictors of Career Engagement

Our selection of the investigated predictor variables of career engagement was based on the view that optimal human development is the result of favorable person-in-context functioning and is situated within a developmental-contextual view of human and career development that sees humans as active, self-regulating, self-constructing living systems (Vondracek, Ferreira, & Santos, 2010). In line with this perspective, we were interested in selecting predictor variables that represent motivational (Ford, 1992) and social-cognitive (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2002) constructs that are empirically established and/or theoretically important to explain interindividual differences in career management in order to investigate their utility at the within-person level. We selected a set of variables that represent internal as well as external (environmental) aspects and tap into cognitions as well as emotions. Specifically, we selected career self-efficacy beliefs, positive emotions, and perceived social career support as important constructs that arc likely to incline people to actively engage in self-directed career management. On the other hand, we chose negative emotions and perceived career barriers as important constructs that would act as avoidance motivators and inhibit active engagement in the task. The next sections review the literature regarding self-efficacy beliefs, positive and negative emotions, perceived social support, and career barriers in relation to career engagement.

Self-Efficacy Beliefs

Bandura (1989) stated that "among the mechanisms of personal agency, none is more central or pervasive than people's beliefs about their capabilities to exercise control over events that affect their lives" (p. 1175). The belief that one is capable of successfully achieving a task is related to increased engagement in the task in terms of both taking on the task and the level of effort and persistence during task execution (Bandura, 2006). King (2004) proposed self-efficacy as an important antecedent to career self-management because people are likely to use career self-managing behavior to a greater extent when they feel competent to do so. Although self-efficacy beliefs can be generalized to represent a more trait-like personality disposition, they usually refer to a specific, task-and-context, state-like construct (Bandura, 2006). Along this line of thought, it is reasonable to assume that career self-efficacy as a state can show meaningful change within a person from week to week. The positive relations of self-efficacy beliefs to career engagement have been confirmed by a number of empirical studies (e.g., Creed, Patton, & Prideaux, 2007; Rogers et al., 2008), which showed that high school and college students with higher career self-efficacy beliefs also reported more career exploration and planning compared with other study participants.


In motivational theories (Ford, 1992), emotions play an important role as an activating force in directing behavior because they energize goal-directed activities. This is in agreement with Fredrickson's (2001) broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. The theory states that positive emotions act as approach motivators; broaden thought-action repertoires; and build intellectual, social, and physical resources, which can be called on in later times of need. This reasoning is supported by different studies that have shown that positive mood and emotions promote proactive behavior and planning (Bindl, Parker, Totterdell, & Hagger-Johnson, 2011) and enable success in a variety of areas (Lyubomirsky, King & Diener, 2005), including one's career (Boehm & Lyubomirsky, 2008). Conversely, negative emotions, such as anxiety and uncertainty, are observed as obstacles for career learning and career identity construction because they inhibit approach behaviors and act as avoidance motivators (Meijers & Wardekker, 2002). Career research often examines the trait-like disposition to experience positive or negative affect (Judge & Larsen, 2001). However, emotions frequently change, which makes it important to assess the emotional experience of individuals with short-term assessments (e.g., on a weekly basis as performed in the present study) if researchers want to understand the microlevel effects of emotions on career development.

Despite their importance, the role of emotions has been frequently neglected in career theory and research, resulting in calls for better integrating emotions in career research (Hartung, 2011; Kidd, 2004). Recent elaborations on social cognitive career theory (SCCT; Lent & Brown, 2008; Lent et al., 2005) also acknowledged the importance of affect for career development and stated that affectivity has an important effect on well-being in life and work because it affects, among other things, social-cognitive factors such as self-efficacy beliefs. However, most often, career researchers did not consider state emotions but investigated traitlike personal characteristics in terms of positive and negative affectivity or the related personality traits of extraversion and neuroticism. For example, empirical studies (Cote, Saks, & Zikic, 2006) have shown that positive affectivity positively relates to job search clarity, intensity, and self-efficacy among undergraduate students, whereas anxiety and neuroticism are frequently reported as predictors of career indecisiveness (Saka & Gati, 2007). Neuroticism also negatively relates to career planning and decision-making self-efficacy among adolescents and high school students (Rogers et al., 2008). However, neuroticism and anxiety seem to promote career exploration (Reed, Bruch, 8: Haase, 2004; Vignoli, Croity-Belz, Chapeland, de Fillipis, & Garcia, 2005), contradicting the broad en-and-build assumption and indicating a complex relation of emotions and career management. It is possible that such findings can be explained by differentiating between-person from within-person effects. Between individuals, higher neuroticism values might be positively related to...

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