PERSONALITY AND CAREER STRATEGY EVALUATION: Risk Management in a Chaotic Career Environment

By Embree, Marlowe C. | Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

PERSONALITY AND CAREER STRATEGY EVALUATION: Risk Management in a Chaotic Career Environment


Embree, Marlowe C., Career Planning and Adult Development Journal


Abstract

Sweeny and Shepperd's (2007) Bad News Response Model proposes a set of theoretical predictions regarding how people will respond to potentially catastrophic future outcomes. The present research provides an empirical application of this model to career planning and career transition responses in a chaotic environment, and identifies ways in which personality variables and awareness of individual strengths may serve as moderators of subject responses. In line with mathematical chaos theory, the possibility that cognitive decision space in a career context presents fractal boundaries is examined as a possible explanation of career indecision, ambivalence, or immobilization. Practical implications for career counseling and career self-management are considered.

Some three millennia ago, Qoheleth wrote the immortal lines, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Among the contrasts he uses to illustrate his governing principle are "a time to scatter and a time to gather", "a time to search and a time to give up", and "a time to keep and a time to throw away". In the world of work, however, it is often difficult for career voyagers to know which of these elements best fits their situation. The attempt to hold onto an old career that has lost its viability is futile; so is the premature renunciation of a work situation that could be salvaged or revamped.

Sweeny and Shepperd's (2007) Bad News Response Model provides a way to categorize people's responses under difficult circumstances. They postulate that people have three potentially adaptive responses in the face of bad news (such as a pending job loss), which they call watchful waiting, active change, and acceptance. Watchful waiting means doing nothing outwardly, but increasing one's vigilant observation and analysis of a situation in order to assess changing contingencies. Active change means taking radical or dramatic action to better a situation by doing something significantly different to salvage or improve one's current circumstances. Acceptance means acknowledging that the loss of one's current reality is inevitable; this does not mean that no future alternatives exist, but it does place an emphasis on changing oneself (one's attitudes, values, perspectives, or meaning frames) as opposed to changing a situation that is outside one's control. This means letting go and doing one's grief work as a prelude to addressing a deferred, and not-yet-known, future.

Sweeny and Shepperd also posit three situational factors that are presumed to influence people's decisions in chaotic situations: the perceived severity of the possible negative outcome; the likelihood that the negative outcome will become a reality; and the extent to which the individual perceives herself to have relevant choices that can reasonably be thought to impact the eventual outcome (controllability). Severity, likelihood, and controllability thus become three variables that can be manipulated in a research design to examine their impact on decision-making.

Although noting that they have no empirical support for their speculations, Sweeny and Shepperd suggest that a person's choice of an optimal strategy may be predicted in terms of the three hypothesized situational dimensions. In essence, low-severity or low-likelihood situations call for watchful waiting, since there is little risk involved in taking a "wait and see" attitude. In contrast, high-severity (or high-likelihood) and high-controllability situations call for active change, since the costs of inaction are high but the probable gains of action are also high. Finally, high-severity (or high-likelihood) but low-controllability situations call for acceptance, since the loss of a currently valued situation is inevitable. They also note, however, that real-life decision-makers typically "hedge their bets" by selecting a mixture of strategies, since the three strategies are not entirely mutually exclusive. …

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