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Career Resilience in a Brave New World

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

It tends to take something dramatic to make someone reassess their career path and what they want from the future. Although career development and progression will be in most people’s consciousness as they enter the world of work, there are a number of practical and attitudinal blockers that can prevent this from materialising until something provides the “jolt” needed. Anyone reading this of a certain age may remember how this is framed in the sitcom Friends:

JOEY: If you ask me, as long as you got this job, you’ve got nothing pushing you to get another one. You need the fear.

RACHEL: The fear?

CHANDLER: He’s right, if you quit this job, you then have motivation to go after a job you really want.

RACHEL: Well then how come you’re still at a job that you hate, I mean why don’t you quit and get ‘the fear’?

CHANDLER: Because. I’m too afraid

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Well it is fair to say that a large proportion of the working population now have ‘the fear’, with 6 in 10 employees from a recent Inpulse survey reporting feeling anxious or stressed around how the coronavirus pandemic will affect their job security[1]. Whether you are in an industry that has suffered from the drastic economic impact of recent months and worry for your very sectors’ survival, or you are a leader who is trying to engage remote staff in how they fit in to a new way of working, trepidation and uncertainty abound.

However, we don’t believe that knee-jerk decisions taken out of necessity or desperation are always those that have best long-term benefits, whatever the circumstance. We also think that there are far more critical skills an individual can build (and that employers can support their staff to build) in furthering their career goals than just CV writing, or interview preparation. This is why we champion the concept of Career Resilience:

“The capacity to adapt to change, bounce back from disruption, learn from experiences and continually seek opportunities to move forward towards your career goals” – Ruth Wootton, Momentwm Consulting


The responsibility for enhancing and furthering career development and opportunity sits with the individual right? We say not. A new approach between employer and employee is required, one that builds on the concept of resilience and how it can apply to employers fostering a culture of continuous learning and progression, whilst employees grow confidence and vision for both their own, and their organisations, future.

Anyone who is familiar with our past content will know how central we believe resilience is to so many areas of modern life and, particularly, the modern workplace. We have had to make our peace with an ever-changing world, characterised by uncertainty, shifting technologies, and increasing pace and urgency. However, whilst we cannot control the circumstances and setbacks that present themselves, we can acquire and build our skills in having the personal resilience to respond positively to these challenges, and as a business you can develop the characteristics of a resilient workforce and rise from the ashes of any crisis with continued momentum and performance. As we say, resilience is a state not a trait. Ruth’s work has expanded the notion of resilience into the area of both an individual’s career planning and the role that employers can take in building a “career resilient workforce”. A large proportion of the modern workforce are not proactively taking control of their career progression and, unfortunately, this same level of apathy extends to their employers who can see career development as code for “giving them the tools to leave for a better job elsewhere”. If ever there is a time to challenge this impasse it is now, in a world so fraught with uncertainty for both staff and companies alike.

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The career resilient individual

“I just haven’t had the luck in progressing here!” a colleague exclaimed to me once. The philosopher Seneca defined luck as “what happens when preparation meets opportunity” (not that said colleague cared about Roman philosophy as she chain smoked in the office car park), and we firmly believe that a resilient individual is better prepared and creates opportunity. So, what characterises the “career resilient” individual, those who even when career shock (see below) hits then uses it to leverage a better outcome for themselves? Perhaps you recognise (and to some degree resent) how these colleagues seem to “always land on their feet” or get to the new world view just that bit quicker than others.


  • Have clarity on purpose and motivation – they know what makes them tick and more importantly why. If this is at a values level, then all the better as it can be applicable across sectors and stops the person becoming pigeon-holed.

  • Crave opportunities for new skills and experiences, even if these are born out of a negative, less than ideal situation.

  • Identify their skills gap and confronts them head on (but I hate public speaking? Sign me up for that presentation!)

  • Maintain perspective and take the learning from setbacks. For them, feedback from an unsuccessful job interview is not an extension of mourning the lost opportunity it is the start of the next improvement plan.

  • Take control of their own destiny – does not wait for development opportunities to be handed to them in a polite, orderly, hypothetical queue (still two metres apart of course) but shapes their own.

  • Seek out the right networks to expand their professional reputation, becomes a person that is thought about as soon as a role comes up rather than audition as an unknown.

You might say this is easier said than done? The theme that links these together in our mind is confidence. They all require that self-belief and impetus to not only reframe your current situation but to then move forward in devising and executing a plan.

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Career Shock

Akkermans, Seibert and Mol (2018)[2] defined career shock as:

“A disruptive and extraordinary event that is, at least to some degree, caused by factors outside the individual’s control and that triggers a deliberate thought process concerning one’s career”

Reading this in the summer of 2020 you could almost believe it was written specifically based on the COVID-19 situation, however the reality is that this “shock” has always existed simply on a far lesser scale than we see currently. The concept of career resilience is in many ways the answer to the question that career shock poses. This definition merely states that a thought process has started; it does not advise what that process should be or how it is best approached. There is no doubt that someone who is “career resilient” would approach the state of shock in a far more proactive and positive way, and would have established links and networks to make that process easier but perhaps most crucially, by not allowing negative feelings such as anger, denial or regret to cloud their response, they are able to move forward quicker.

Choose to Grow - Organisational Flow

The Career Resilient Workforce

Guess what employers? Your basic offer isn’t enough anymore to generate the engagement and commitment you want from your people. In the past it was a straightforward equation – job security = loyalty. You guaranteed the job for life, even making up roles for long serving employees rather than seeing them out of work. In return you expected unwavering loyalty to the cause, where even an inkling that someone had skimmed the job pages was considered treason.

Now we have a discrepancy. Companies will still expect loyalty, long hours, “going the extra mile” however they cannot offer the job guarantee. Established businesses are placed into administration on an almost daily basis, thousands of job losses are barely newsworthy anymore, so common has it become. So, we pose some questions:

Don’t you want driven, talented, resilient people?

Why would you not want the career resilient person we described earlier in your company? In fact, why wouldn’t you want teams full of them? These individuals will be highly motivated, engaged with your mission and values and constantly looking to the future and what opportunities are there. However, you cannot expect them to cultivate this alone and then reap the benefits later. It is a mutual development responsibility with mutual benefits.

Is hiding the exits really a talent retention strategy?

It is not uncommon for talented individuals to be actively stifled in their development for fear that they will leave for something better, or to a competitor. To some degree it is inevitable that as you develop your best and brightest, they will find opportunities elsewhere to be the right step for them. Do we need to fear it and try and hide these routes? In a recent Linkedin interview PwC US Chairman Tim Ryan said he takes pride in the fact that other firms poach their top performers and hopes the legacy of development they leave will continue to grow their reputation as a firm. Being a resilient organisation is partly about having the internal development strategies to ensure a succession plan when gaps arise, but also gaining that brand identity as a company that invests in its people.

Do you have a moral obligation?

Shutting the gate after the horse has bolted is probably the correct analogy for the sudden rush to re-actively upskill a workforce when you have placed them in a redundancy or redeployment situation. It feels particularly disingenuous if the employer has shown little, or no, commitment to developing skills and future opportunities previously. Surely if you know that you can no longer guarantee infinite tenure or security you have an obligation to prepare staff to flourish in the future rather than leave them high and dry?


What now?

Current circumstances have shown that “career shock” is never far away from any of us, and it would be naïve to assume that we will never again face a situation where the working world shifts in such a way again. Was the tokenistic annual conversation with staff that included the career aspirations tick box ever sufficient? And will it really be representative of a new world where economic, sector and company stability are constantly in the balance?

The time is now for employers and employees to take a new, joint, approach to developing career resilience throughout their workforce. We are all only one step from having the rug pulled from us and feeling the ‘fear’, whether that is at an individual or organisational level. Perhaps it is time to get ahead of that together?

Join our L&D Business Partner, Ruth Wootton, for a free webinar exploring more detail on developing a career resilient workforce on 17th June at 10am. Register through our website at


[1] Reported in Personnel Today [2] Tales of the Unexpected: Integrating Career Shocks in the Contemporary Career Literature; SA Journal of Industrial Pyschology #organisationaldevelopment #newworldview #futureproof #inflow #resilientorganisation #careerresilience #hr #development #skillsgap

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