The dynamism and unpredictability of current social and economic conditions
present a particular challenge for mature workers who tend to consider work as one
of the main sources of their identity. The challenge is perhaps even more profound
for those, such as managers, who are expected to be active agents in managing their
The relationship between the self and organisations in the changing work context is
the main focus of this study. The concept of career identity is explored and its
relationship with employability discussed in light of evidence from a study of
middle-aged, middle managers in three industries in Chile.
A mixed methods approach commenced with an initial mapping of the objective
aspects of career by means of a questionnaire survey. This was followed by
interviews using a narrative approach which allowed access to the sensemaking
process individuals develop to construct and inform their identities at work.
The findings indicate that Chilean middle-aged middle managers' careers tend to
unfold in single organisational settings, with high tenure and low expected mobility.
Age and mobility are related to both perception of employability and the attitudes
and behaviours leading to employability. Mature workers with stable careers appear
less employable than younger and more mobile workers. The dominant narrative or
'career script' in the population studied, is the traditional one that stresses notions of
continuity and progression in a more or less predictable sequence of stages leading to
positions with higher status and social recognition.
In this study, career identity is conceptualised as a dynamic aggregate of descriptors
that individuals ascribed to themselves at work. A complex identity that includes a
large set of characteristics, a variety of future possible selves and different objects of
identification in a flexible interplay, closer to personal identities and to processes
rather than to groups, seems to be a key antecedent of the career behaviour leading to
employability. Work history, specifically diversity of work experience and social
connections, plays a significant role in complexity of career identity.
Since participants tend to stress collective values, work stability and the membership
to social groups, such as industries and firms, there might be a risk of narrow career
identity, reduced mobility real and expected, and low employability. However, a new
notion of career is just emerging which decouple identity from organisations and
promote independence in the labour market.
A typology of four career stories was constructed, which depicts a particular
configuration of career identity and sensemaking of careers. Their implications in
career behaviour are explored.
Current work conditions open up new opportunities to exercise choice, however, in
the light of the current findings they might imply also lack of references and sense of
insecurity for an important group of the working population. The potential
implications of these findings for middle-aged workers' employability are explored
and propositions for both theory and practice are suggested.