As the world is evolving so is career management. Many factors condition
the employment relationship. These factors are; Change such as outsourcing, Flexibility,
such as training employees to handle many tasks, and Organisational structuring.
The term “boundaryless careers” appeared in 1996 and covers 5 aspects. The
first aspect is that traditional boundaries are no longer relevant, they are
broken. The second aspect is that the employee has more than one employer,
called a portfolio of work. The third aspect is to draw validation from all the
different employers. The fourth aspect is external networks in gender, age,
class, culture etc… Finally, the last aspect is that the individual has agency1.
Even though the term boundaryless career is new, the main idea of It emerged
about 60 years ago with Gouldner2.
After the appearance of neoliberalism allowing money to dribble down to
the people at the bottom with more privatisation and globalisation in the after
war, boundaryless careers emerged. The idea of a boundaryless career is that
the individual takes charge of his own career path by allowing himself to different
types of employers and by taking advantage of many experiences. The boundaryless
career puts itself in contradiction with past social ideologies. A career would
take place inside a same organisation “bounded” by a position, organisation etc…3,
whereas a boundaryless career would require the input and experience of different
employers from different organisations. Indeed, before the 1990s a person would
get a job in an industry and would probably stay there for the rest of there
life. Employees were evaluated on a single skill and would perform this one for
their entire life. Most people could eventually evolve in their career inside
the organisation, they would maybe have different employers4.
Today, with boundaryless careers many employees develop during their career different
skills and become therefor multi skilled.
skilling also comes from flexibility inside organisation. This flexibility is
can be found in diverse forms. An example could be Company A has various platforms
where workers go every day and a supervisor for each platform. One day to
reduce there cost they decide that one supervisor per platform is not necessary,
so they decide to merge them and assign one supervisor for platform 1 & 2.
After a while Company A would like to reduce their costs even more. For that,
they decide that instead of paying extra employees for things such as, evacuating
the platforms in case of a fire, they will train their supervisors to give them
the knowledge necessary to be able to do this specific task. Flexibility is a
major key to boundaryless careers, it is the first step to obtaining more
In their paper on boundaryless careers, Sherry E. Sullivana and Michael
B. Arthur, discuss about two aspects of boundaryless careers: Physical mobility
which the most commonly known and Psychological mobility. Psychological
mobility is “the capacity to move as seen through the mind of the career actor”.
What they put in light in this paper is the fact that boundaryless careers can
be found not only by physically moving from one organisation to another but also
inside our minds. An example of psychological mobility would be, an individual A
works in a company for a certain job. Though in his company there have been no
intentions from him or the organisation to enter physical mobility, individual
A has in mind a growth in his career and is anticipating how his career will
This analysis gives us a wider perception of boundaryless careers.
Although boundaryless careers
can be perceived as a step forward in our societies it has many constrains. Regarding
career management practices in different countries, traditional careers and boundaryless
careers could be divided in different ways. For example, in the French context,
age still seems to be a determining factor even though lifelong learning is
starting to be on the agenda. For expatriates, nomadic careers seem to prevail.
They combine international mobility with personal development, skills
development and career advancement. Even though the opportunities for growth in
the company that has expatriated them maybe unsure, they are ready to consider
their progression outside. Different
nations can also impact mobility whether it is psychological or physical. For example,
individual cultures will be more focused on personal development with equity,
promotions and networks. In contrary collective cultures tend to direct
themselves towards group satisfaction and will refer to the group/organisation
Collective nations do not align
well with boundaryless careers as they are based on the group success and not
the individual7. For
example, Individual A is part of an ethnic minority in which they have always
work in the same factory. Individual A was able inside the factory to obtain
new knowledge and had various trainings. This individual has been on the same
position for now 10 years but would not see themselves anywhere else. They are satisfied
with their work position and relationships inside the factory. This is a
typical example of an individual that has earned knowledge inside a bounded environment.
Although this individual would not prosper in a Boundaryless career but has succeeded
within its collective family. Individuals like this one find success in their
career in a secure employment. Low masculine cultures seem to be more incline to
put themselves into psychological mobility and are less affected by physical
mobility. Indeed as seen with Hofstede low masculine cultures tend to be more
turned to relations and work quality. In contrary in high masculine societies,
individuals are more competitive and would therefor be more focused on physical
mobility. This wold imply that high masculine societies are more nomad
employees8. Low power distance societies also show more
incline towards boundaryless careers. They want to build their own career and
authority has minor impact on them.
Boundaryless careers as shown
has given the possibility to employees to be freer to decide their own career
and they have the power, the personal autonomy to choose the career path that
they want and how they want to take it. In 50 years we have gone from the traditional
hierarchical career with employees mainly one skilled to a boundaryless career
with multi skilled employees. In this paper we have seen how boundaryless
careers can be described by physical mobility but also by psychological
mobility. This gave is a wider view of what boundaryless careers could be. Although
the boundaryless careers seem to be the new “must have” they are some
constraints to it such as: Gender, sex, cultures etc… Here we focused on
cultures with the help of Hofstede. We saw how different aspects like
Masculinity, Collectivism and Low power distance affect negatively boundaryless
careers. Indeed, in these societies individuals would not succeed in such
environment. They satisfy themselves with the organisation or group they are
part of. In that regard, Boundaryless careers does not place squarely freedom
and agency in the hands of the employee. Other factors come into account, like
the society or nation you have evolved in your entire life. Family pressure can
also take away the freedom of an employee who would like to break free from
these society norms. Overall, boundaryless careers may be the future of employment
but as to the freedom and agency of the employee in regard to this one there is
still constraints to slow it down. It could be interesting to see the link
between the uprising of expatriates and boundaryless careers as they seem to be
M.B. & Rousseau, D. 1996. The Boundaryless Caree,Oxford University Press.
2 The Oxford Handbook of
Personnel Psychology: The Boundaryless Career, by Kerr Inkson
3 BIRD, A., 1994. Careers as
repositories of knowledge: a new perspective on boundaryless careers.
Journal of Organizational Behavior (1986-1998), 15(4), pp. 325.
4 DEFILLIPPI, R.J. and ARTHUR,
M.B., 1994. The boundaryless career: a competency based perspective.
Journal of Organizational Behavior (1986-1998), 15(4), pp. 307.
5 The evolution of the
boundaryless career concept: Examining physical and psychological mobility, by Sherry E.Sullivana & Michael B. Arthur. Journal of
Vocational Behavior Volume 69, Issue 1, August 2006, Pages 19-29
7 Judith Pringle & Mary
Mallon (2003) Challenges for the boundaryless career odyssey, The
International Journal of Human Resource Management, 14:5, 839-853
8 Protean and boundaryless
careers: A study on potential motivators by Jesse Segers,
Ilke Inceoglu, Daniël Vloeberghs, Dave Bartram and Erik Henderick. Journal of
Vocational Behavior Volume 73, Issue 2, October 2008, Pages 212-230