Organisational Careers versus Boundaryless Careers: Insights from the Accounting Profession
Smith, Theresa, Sheridan, Alison, Journal of Management and Organization
Much of careers research in recent times has focused on the so called move away from traditional 'organisational careers' to what Arthur (1994) coined the 'boundaryless career'. This paper discusses research that challenges the applicability of the boundaryless career and the claim that 'organisational careers are dead'. Drawing on interviews with nearly 60 accountants in Australia, the research demonstrates that employees are pursuing an organisational career. For this occupational group, the lack of proactive HR involvement in career development and the emphasis on selfdirection was not appreciated. Rather, the research highlighted that the lack of organisational career management had negative implications for employee attitudes and motivation. The issues raised by the participants suggest it is timely to consider whether the unique characteristics of the accounting profession represent an ideal environment for the maintenance of an 'organisational career'.
Key words: organisational careers; boundaryless careers; accounting profession; career managment
Much of careers research in recent times has focused on the so called move away from traditional Organisational careers' to what Arthur (1994) coined the 'boundaryless career'. Historically, organisational careers or 'bounded careers', described the majority of employees who progressed through an orderly series of upward moves receiving increasing income, status, power and security. Such careers generally developed within a single, mainly large and stable organisation. However, by the late 1980s and 1990s, Arthur and Rousseau (1996a) believed a shift was occurring toward boundaryless careers. They argued that careers in the twenty-first century would no longer be automatic nor linear, they would be boundaryless. The career would be directed by the individual, not the organisation, and driven by changes in the person and in the environment. The individual would need to be more flexible and adaptive. Employment transitions would occur across multiple roles, organisations and occupations.
Heeding Pringle and Mallon's (2003) call to take a more critical approach to the boundaryless career theory and the need to attend to the context in which it is employed, the purpose of this paper is to discuss research that challenges the applicability of the boundaryless career and the claim that 'organisational careers are dead'.
The research presented in this article is taken from a larger research thesis which examined the key personal, inter-personal, and organisational factors that influence the career development of men and women in the accounting profession in Australia (Smith 2006). The broader research was undertaken from a human resource perspective. While not the primary focus of the research, an interesting theme to emerge from the research which we believed warranted specific attention concerned the issue of traditional versus boundaryless careers.
Drawing on a sample of men and women employed in the accounting profession in Australia, the research discussed in this article suggests that contrary to Arthur and Rousseau's (1996a) and Hall's (1996) theory on boundaryless careers, the accounting employees in the study are pursuing an organisational career. Two aspects of career development are examined. First, whether participants in the research remained loyal to the one organisation for the majority of their careers; that is, did they follow an 'organisational career'? Second, what was the attitude of participants towards career management? That is, did they believe the organisation had a role to play in managing their careers (organisational career management); or did they take sole responsibility for their career management (boundaryless careers)? The research showed that for this occupational group, the lack of proactive HR involvement in career development by their organisations was not appreciated. …