The paper, entitled Synergy and conflict in visions of the future: a network-based approach to future work selves, was written by Prof Karoline Strauss (ESSEC Business School), Dr Mell (RSM), Prof. Frederik Anseel (Ghent University), and Dr Annemijn Loermans (Goldsmiths, University of London).
Mell noted that “The nature of work is changing and will likely continue to do so. Careers are increasingly characterised by contingent or project-based forms of work, and career transitions are becoming more frequent. By and large, individuals can no longer look to a lifelong employer to answer the key questions of ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where am l going?’ Instead, members of an aging population are facing increasing pressures to upskill and retrain, and to take responsibility for their own employability and career success.”
Thinking about the future
The researchers’ project addresses a fundamental and intriguing question in this context: how does the way people think about their future help them to adapt to unpredictable change and take an active role in managing their career? To answer this question, they took a new approach to studying people’s vision of their future. They captured their different hopes and aspirations for the future, and measured how interconnected they are.
“Across multiple studies we find that when there is a high level of synergy and interconnection between a person’s hopes and aspirations for the future, they feel better able to take responsibility for their career, prepare for and explore different options, and to shape the future. They are also more likely to take action to prepare for the future by building skills and developing their network,” said Mell.
Opening doors for future research
The researchers submitted the paper to the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, the professional body of scholars in management, which has over 12,000 members globally. The paper was nominated for the Best Paper award of the Managerial and Organizational Cognition (MOC) division. An award committee of six scholars in the field selected the paper for the award.
Dr Mell believes their paper won because it takes a new approach to studying how people think about the future. “Our focus on the interconnections between their hopes and aspirations is different from previous research which typically asks people to describe how they imagine their future career.”
The team’s approach opens up new avenues for future research. Studying aspirations and their interconnections means researchers can also study how they change over time. For example, is it best to hold on to our idea of who we want to be, even if we encounter obstacles and setbacks, and persist? Or are we better able to adjust if we change and adapt our aspirations for the future? Which best enables us to adapt and prepare, and which is best for our well-being? These are the questions that researchers can address in the future.