In most industrialized nations, the average age a student graduates from high school is 18 years old and the average retirement age is 65 years old – a difference of 47 years. On average, most people work 40 to 50 years of their lives. It is well established that during these 40 to 50 years of employment workers undergo at least three distinct phases in their career development:
1. The “Bring It On” Stage
2. The “Realistic” Stage
3. The “Reinvention” Stage
The Bring It On Stage ranges from the mid-20’s to the early-to-mid-30’s. It is during this first stage of career development that workers are determined to make their mark in the world or work. It is also the time when they have the most energy and the strongest drive to achieve their goals. Most people in this stage believe strongly that they can make what they want happen – possibilities and success seem unlimited.
The Realistic Stage ranges from the early-30’s to mid-40’s. It is in this stage that specific values and career realities begin to emerge. At this point of their career development, many people feel the values clash between choosing priorities in their work lives and their home lives. Having been in the workforce for 10 to 15 years, they are discovering that they might not be able to do it all after all. They may feel that they are not necessarily the ones in total control of their own career destinies. The passion they felt in the Bring It On Stage has been tempered by workplace realities and truths such as lack of leadership support on their ideas, a more than likely mediocre work environment, and the reframing of their earlier passions and goals.
The Reinvention Stage occurs from the mid-40’s to retirement. This is when people are well on their way to totally redefining and reconciling their work and outside-of-work lives. They have learned from and have mastered many of the challenges they faced in the previous two stages and this is the time many choose to focus on creating a legacy of specific contributions they want to be remembered for in their careers, their families and their communities.
This progression through the three stages of career development is natural and normal for most workers. Following are some ideas that employees, managers, and leaders of organizations can use to increase effectiveness, productivity, and satisfaction in the workplace:
— Realize that in today’s and tomorrow’s workplaces, these stages of career development are normal, natural, and will occur
— Understand that your organization, work group or team is made up of a combination of people who reside within each of the three various stages of career development
— Recognize that an individual’s work-related and personal values, beliefs, and behaviors are in large part shaped in relation to which career development stage he or she is currently in
— Be aware and prepared that conflict is likely to occur among people who reside in different stages of career development. For example, an employee in her or his mid-20’s may not understand or agree with the leadership approach or direction given by a manager in his or her early-50’s
— Whenever possible, try to find ways to match people’s values, beliefs, and behaviors to tasks and projects. For example, consider assigning people in the Bring It On Stage to tasks or projects that require a lot of energy; assigning people in the Realistic Stage to value-added initiatives where they can feel engaged and a part of something bigger; and Reinvention Stage people to legacy projects, such as a mentoring program, company history initiatives, or leadership development programs.
Understanding that career development stages are natural, normal, and will occur can go a long way to keeping employees motivated. In addition, knowledge of the three stages can help managers and leaders prevent and resolve conflicts that may occur due to career development differences in values and perspectives.