Why do we work – career stages and attributes

In my previous post on ‘Why do we work‘, I talked about 4 levels of employees from the perspective of career and motivational stages: Entry Level Employees, Senior employees/frontline managers, Middle Managers, and executives. They differ in terms of how they manage their career and what motivates them to give their best to the organization. I also talked about the fact that motivations flow from basic human needs (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). In this and next 2 posts, I will focus on first 3 and discuss their career perspectives and what can be done to improve the situation.

Here is a look at some key career attributes for early and late stages of career. Please note that this description applies to cases when individuals let the organizations drive their career plans. Also, there will be many more attributes than just these when you analyze your own career journey, these are the ones I found repeating across the people I talked to and have worked with in the past.

Career Stage Early (0-5 yrs.) Late (10-20 yrs.)
Primary Contribution mode Self Through others
Willingness to change High Low
Domain Expertise Low High
Earning per working hour Low High
# of real working hours High Low
Engagement Level High Low
Learning High Low
  • Primary contribution mode: There are 2 ways an individual contributes in an organization. ‘Self’ contribution is where most of the effort goes in achieving own results. ‘Through others’ contribution is where most of the effort goes in helping others to achieve their results. As people grow in seniority, their effort increasingly goes into helping others (reports, peers, managers, etc.) meet their objectives.
  • Willingness to change : As people progress through their career, they tend to become risk averse, and willingness to change goes down. Primarily this happens because our working styles start taking roots, and also because cost of failure is too high (family, comfort zone in the company/domain, financial security, etc.).
  • Domain expertise: Knowledge of the functional and technical area. As people spend more time in the same area, they obviously go deep and become an expert.
  • Earning per working hour: Working hour is when you do real work (spending time in office doesn’t count if you didn’t do real work). Salaries increase a lot as careers reach late stage, so this ratio goes very high.
  • # of real working hours: this is the time spent in doing some meaningful work (reading emails doesn’t count!). This goes down for most people as careers grow, either because challenge reduces significantly, or because their expertise makes them very efficient.
  • Engagement Level: This is the level to which the individual is passionate about the work they are doing. New employees invariably are excited about the work and the engagement level is high. Senior employees, on the other hand, lose engagement, either because work becomes monotonous/easy, or they don’t feel connected to the bigger organization vision and goals anymore.
  • Learning: Amount of learning that an individual does during early phase of their career is much more than what they do in later stages.

Low engagement level, ‘through others’ contribution mode, and # of real working hours are key points an organization need to care about if they want their senior employees to contribute significantly.

Learning, # of real working hours, and engagement level are key points an individual needs to care about because they will slow down the career growth, and in some cases, take the career off-track.

Active career management (by individual or organization) is about identifying key career attributes and turning ‘low’s into ‘high’s to achieve sustained career success and happiness.

In the next 2 posts I will talk about some ways to convert these lows into highs, both from an organization perspective, as well as an individual’s perspective.

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