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Beyond organization and self: The importance of reference groups in career transitions

English title Beyond organization and self: The importance of reference groups in career transitions
Applicant Grote Gudela
Number 130035
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Departement Management, Technologie und Ökonomie D-MTEC ETH Zürich
Institution of higher education ETH Zurich - ETHZ
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.04.2010 - 31.03.2013
Approved amount 304'297.00
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Keywords (9)

Career management; career transitions; continuing education; career orientations; boundaries; new careers; career transitions; reference groups; career success

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
In diesem Projekt untersuchten wir, welchen Einfluss sogenannte „Referenzgruppen“, d.h. Gruppen von Personen, mit denen sich Individuen vergleichen und von denen sie normative Orientierungen übernehmen (z.B. Familie, Arbeitskollegen, Kollegen aus dem Sportverein), auf berufliche Erfolgskriterien oder konkrete Laufbahnentscheidungen haben. Im Vorder-grund stand dabei die Frage, ob berufliche Werdegänge wirklich so selbstgesteuert verlaufen, wie dies in der gängigen Literatur postuliert wird.
Lay summary

Anhand der Berufsbiographien von 610 MBA-Absolventen (88% männlich, Durchschnitts­alter 43 Jahre) von Schweizer Universitäten und Fachhochschulen bestätigte sich unsere Hypothese, dass Referenzgruppen einen wesentlichen Einfluss auf individuelle Laufbahnen haben. Bezüglich der Beurteilung von beruflichem Erfolg wurde deutlich, dass zwar die persönliche Werthaltung jedes/jeder Einzelnen eine zentrale Rolle spielt, aber auch gegenwärtige Arbeitskollegen sowie Familie, Freunde oder Personen mit ähnlichem beruflichem Hintergrund als Massstab für den eigenen Erfolg wichtig sind. Bezüglich der beruflichen Wechsel bestätigte sich die Bedeutung der Vergleichsgruppen ebenfalls. Zum Beispiel fanden wir heraus, dass erfolgreiche berufliche Wechsel, die nicht nur einen Funktions- oder einen Firmenwechsel umfassen sondern bei denen gleichzeitig Funktion, Firma und Branche gewechselt werden, mehr Unterstützung durch das persönliche Netzwerk erfordern. Besonders unterstützend waren dabei Personen mit einem ähnlichen beruflichen Hintergrund, während – entgegen unseren Erwartungen – Personen, die man aus früheren Ausbildungen kennt (z.B. Alumni), eine eher untergeordnete Rolle spielten.

Nebst diesen Ergebnissen über die Rolle von Referenzgruppen liessen sich weitere Erkenntnisse aus der Studie gewinnen. Unter anderem konnten wir zeigen, dass sich die Laufbahnmuster der Teilnehmenden von Universitäts- bzw. Fachhochschulprogrammen substantiell unterscheiden, zum Beispiel bezüglich hierarchischem Fortkommen (mehr höheres Management bei Teilnehmenden von Universitätsprogrammen) und Branchenzugehörigkeit (mehr öffentlicher Dienst bei Teilnehmenden von Universitätsprogrammen; mehr Handel und Produktion bei Teilnehmenden von Fachhochschulprogrammen).

Aus unseren Resultaten lassen such auch diverse praktische Folgerungen ziehen. Wir konnten beispielsweise konkrete Handlungsempfehlungen für Programmleitungen und Alumni-Verbände von Managementweiterbildungen ableiten, unter anderem für das Marketing sowie die Betreuung von Studierenden.


Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 13.05.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Reference groups: A missing link in career studies
Grote Gudela, Hall Douglas T., Reference groups: A missing link in career studies, in Journal of Vocational Behavior.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Universität Mannheim Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Yale School of Management United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Suffolk University United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Boston University United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Universität Genf Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Wharton School People and Organizations Conference 28.09.2012 Philadelphia, USA
EAWOP Small Group Meeting on 'Job Transitions from a Career and Occupational Health Perspective' 12.09.2012 Antwerp, Belgium
Academy of Management Conference 03.08.2012 Boston, USA
European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS) Conference 05.07.2012 Helsinki, Finland
IWP International Conference 2012 on Work, Wellbeing and Performance 26.06.2012 Sheffield, UK
7. Tagung der Fachgruppe Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie 07.09.2011 Rostock, Deutschland
European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology (EAWOP) Conference 25.05.2011 Maastricht, NL
Academy of Management Conference 06.08.2010 Montreal, Canada


Knowledge transfer events



Self-organised

Title Date Place
Implikationen für Programme Offices aus dem SNF-Projekt "Beyond Organization and Self" 21.03.2013 ETH Zürich
Resultate aus dem SNF-Projekt "Beyond Organization and Self" 12.06.2012 ETH Zürich

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media Berufliche Netzwerke – Wer hilft bei einem Stellenwechsel? Tages-Anzeiger German-speaking Switzerland 19.03.2013
Other activities Versand Zusammenfassung für Teilnehmende der Onlinebefragungen German-speaking Switzerland 03.10.2011
Media relations: print media, online media „Knowing-why“ und „knowing-whom“ - positive „Nebeneffekte“ von Management-Weiterbildungen Tages-Anzeiger German-speaking Switzerland

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
149696 Reference groups as constraints and enablers in individual careers 01.10.2013 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

Our project aimed at exploring the impact of reference groups with the general underlying question of whether careers have indeed become as boundaryless and self-directed as newer career literature suggests. For this purpose we studied career histories of alumni of programs in further management education. These individuals can be assumed to take a particular interest in their career and to have rather more boundaryless and self-directed careers than the general population, thereby presenting a challenging context for our question. We formulated a set of hypotheses around influences of reference groups in people's career orientations, in the evaluation of career success, and in specific career moves. In order to prepare the survey that served as the main instrument for data collection, we interviewed students of two cohorts of two different Swiss management education programs at the beginning and at the end of their studies. From these interviews (N = 50) we gained insights into criteria for career success and influencing factors for changes in these criteria over the 1.5 year period of the study programs. We further learned about the particular support received from personal social networks and the make-up of these networks. Also, the interplay of planning and chance events in career changes became obvious. The online survey contained questions concerning the individuals' career history, career-related social network, evaluation of career success, and several measures for career orientation, networking behavior, and general personality characteristics. It was launched in May 2011. In total, 610 alumni (89%) and students (11%) of ten MBA programs at Swiss universities and universities of applied sciences participated. The average age was 43 years (SD = 8 years), most respondents were male (88%), and 90% of them worked full-time.The majority of respondents expressed career orientations that indicated a strong interest in personal advancement either through promotion in one or few organizations (36%) or through a more independent career that crosses job and organizational boundaries more frequently (50%). Thus at first sight, organization and self would appear to be the main referents. However, the influence of a broader set of reference groups became apparent when looking at the concrete people against which people evaluate their career success. While self was indeed considered an important referent by 95% of the respondents and members of the current employing organization by 44%, persons with a similar professional profile (48%), family members (39%) and friends (34%) were also of significant importance for a fair share of the sample. We found that similar professional background was particularly important, where individuals might be known from work or from school/university, as was personal closeness and comparatively older age. Also, with higher levels of subjective career success individuals known from school/university were less relevant compared to individuals known from work. Thus, experienced success seems to affect the normative and comparative standards chosen. Concerning individuals' assessment of career success, we found that subjective criteria like job satisfaction, challenging work, work-life balance, and recognition were ranked as more important by most respondents compared to objective criteria like remuneration and hierarchical position. Job satisfaction overall had the highest rank, while hierarchical position had the lowest rank. At the same time individuals who had experienced more promotions in their career generally considered themselves more successful on the subjective success criteria, which indicates an intricate relationship among objective and subjective career success. The career histories overall contained almost 2500 changes, that is on average about 4 changes per respondent. The majority of changes included a change in job function and organization (53%), a third of the changes concerned taking on new functions within the same organization (34%), changes to new organizations without a change in function were fairly rare (11%) and there were 3% changes within the same organization and job function. Also, respondents on average changed industry sectors twice in their careers. Crossing functional, organizational and industry sector boundaries thus appeared to be quite easy - what it actually took to make these changes happen we aimed to identify by more detailed analyses of the support received through individuals' social networks. In terms of general characteristics of respondents' social networks, we found that network size was on average about 6 people, but ranged from 1 to 15 people; about 25% of network members were family, another 25% people known through one's current job position, and the remaining 50% fairly evenly split between people known from former jobs, school/university, and leisure; 70% of network members were male. Our analyses revealed, for example, that in line with our assumptions for more complex career transitions more instrumental support was received from one’s career network. This support was mostly provided by individuals known from work who were professionally similar and personally close. Overall, our results indicate that the occupation serves as a more important reference group in successful career transitions than assumed in prior research. The importance of normative and comparative functions of referents from one's own work context compared to referents from other contexts like family or friends is also apparent in the finding that networks composed of more ties external to the work context were related to lower job satisfaction and higher turnover intention.Along with our aim to better operationalize career boundaries and their permeability, we worked on quantifying career histories. For this purpose we employed sequence analysis, which allowed us to visualize career patterns and to identify pattern frequencies. One interesting result concerns different career profiles for participants of university versus university of applied sciences programs, both regarding hierarchical advancement and changes between industry sectors. Also, different personal career anchors were found to be reflected in different career histories.
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