Striding with purpose or adrift on the ocean? Being deliberate with career direction

By Sangeeta Pilger

Tuesday March 2, 2021

different aged business men and women standing confidently to show they have career direction
People with a sense of purpose are more confident about their career direction. (ASDF/Adobe)

People with a calling, a sense of purpose are more confident and make better decisions about their career direction. Sangeeta Pilger outlines the steps to shaping a career that goes the way you want it to.

I typically hear clients say things like “I feel stuck in my career”, “I’m bored”, “I’m not earning enough money”, “I’m not feeling valued”, “This job isn’t who I am” or “I’m exhausted”.

Listening to the language that you and others use when describing what work feels like is key to understanding what may be happening with purpose and passion in people’s roles. Research confirms that people with a calling (a sense of purpose) are more confident and make better decisions about their career direction. They are more intrinsically motivated and engaged. They also tend to be happier and more satisfied with life, cope more effectively with challenges and are less likely to suffer from stress and depression. Gallup research into employee engagement similarly confirms that people want purpose and meaning from their work. They want to be known for what makes them unique.

So what increases career satisfaction?

Many studies have explored this area and the following six factors consistently emerge.

  1. Task variety: This has been identified as most likely to influence career satisfaction and a happier workforce
  2. Colleagues: Good colleagues make a difference in how much we enjoy our working day and the sense of community that results
  3. Working conditions: This relates to the attractiveness of the office environment, location and facilities
  4. Workload: A small workload is known to lead to boredom while consistent overload will lead to lower levels of satisfaction. It is important to understand how much is consistently on our plate.
  5. Autonomy: A reasonable degree of autonomy is widely documented as being linked to increased job satisfaction
  6. Development opportunities: Roles that allow people to learn, grow and develop are correlated with increased career satisfaction.

You may be thinking the above factors sound reasonable, but what you can you do with them?

A simple and effective approach is to have a conversation about the presence or absence of these factors, and then listen. If you choose, you can integrate a 5 or 10 point scale (e.g. from Highly Unsatisfied to Highly Satisfied) into your conversation with team members and discuss each factor using this scale.

Through this, you can help yourself and your team members identify gut feelings with a number/rating and then open the discussion about what is working well and why, what is only satisfactory and why, or what is less than optimal and why.

If, for example, the score is 8 or above on any of these factors, this lends itself to a discussion about what is contributing to optimal outcomes, and how to sustain this or amplify it in other situations.

If the experience is mid-range (a score between 5 and 7), a valuable discussion could explore the extent of variability or consistency, why this is the case and what the opportunity is.

If it is absent/almost absent/highly inconsistent (a score under 5), it can be useful to discuss the cost and implications of doing nothing and what is preventing the gap being closed. Regardless of the score, it is important to identify next steps.

Understanding the implications of people’s career stages and asking relevant questions will guide better thinking and choices. Below are a few examples of career stages and questions/discussion pertinent to these.

 Career stage: promotion to a higher level

  • Using the Integrated Leadership System Profiles, ask staff to think about examples of their capabilities in practice, ask them where they shine and discuss what can close the gap.
  • Ask questions about what currently enables and challenges confidence at work and what they anticipate will enable and potentially challenge their confidence in a more senior role.
  • When seeking promotion, everybody needs a champion. Leaders have a role in championing career direction and support for promotion.

Career stage: redundancy and redeployment

  • This career stage is a time of change. Leaders have a critical role in discussing the emotions people may be experiencing. These can include anger, sadness, shock, and damage to self-confidence, or excitement if they want the change. Leaders benefit from being capable with discussions that involve emotion. Again, coaching support can help this.
  • When people are undergoing transition, they may also feel a sense of pressure from their organisation or family to find a new job. Asking questions about their experience with the transition can help to surface challenges being encountered. Discuss support available through EAP or coaching and follow-up.

Career stage: return from a career break

When returning to the workplace following maternity/parental/carer or other extended leave, confidence and a sense of ‘being in the know’ may be affected along with a feeling of stress in managing life and work priorities upon return to work. Leaders need to help team members prepare for and market themselves back into the workforce. Here are a few examples of how to help with this.

  • Find out what the team member is looking forward to and anything they feel uncertain about with their return to work. Share a story or examples of when you felt uncertain or have helped others in their shoes. Create the space for a safe conversation about their career direction.
  • Identify what boundaries will be critical to achieving balance and discuss options that are mutually beneficial.
  • Provide context to bring people up to speed and identify what will help self-confidence. Discuss work assignments that will feel rewarding for them to work on, creating positive energy as they return to work.

In summary, help yourself and others to leverage purpose and passion, and provoke thought and ownership with your staff about what will position them for success in the event of change, such as a restructure or redeployment. We never know when these events will happen but if we are not prepared, we are more likely to get affected. Finally, help people work through what career changes mean. This relates to the work itself as well as personal and social issues (such as being moved away from family, friends, schools or peers). By being deliberate with career direction discussions, satisfaction and success are more likely to follow, resulting in greater engagement and wellbeing.


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