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Protean Careers at Work

How to boost career success for your employees?

Protean Careers at Work

How to boost career success for your employees?

The rapid pace of change, accelerated by technology and globalization, has led to a gig economy characterized by more frequent career transitions, virtual and contingent work, and the decline of traditional employment relationships. This requires greater self-direction and adaptability on the part of job seekers and employers in the current era.

Protean career – the exercise of self-direction and a focus on intrinsic values in the pursuit of psychological success, is then essential for people nowadays to thrive and adapt to dynamic challenges. Indeed, people with protean careers enjoy a wide range of occupational advantages, such as higher job performance, increased employability, greater career flexibility, better job satisfaction, and more. Therefore, promoting a protean career is one of the foremost important chapters in the workplace nowadays, endeavouring to improve organizational productivity and employee wellbeing.

This article will briefly (a) summarize the mechanism of  protean career, and (b) discuss the outcome of possessing a protean career.

Mechanism of Protean Career

Protean career can be described as “a process which the person, not the organization, is managing, focusing on the core values of freedom and growth, and emphasizing subjective success”. The key mechanisms involved in protean career involved three major stages, namely protean career orientation, protean career processes, and career outcome. Figure 1 depicts the theoretical mechanism of protean career.

Figure 1. The theoretical mechanism of protean career

Protean Career Orientation

Protean career orientation encompasses two major dimensions that predict protean career processes thereby predicting ideal outcomes:

  • Self-direction: Independence from external control or influence
    • Taking responsibility for career decisions and actions
    • Volition and control over one’s career
  • Intrinsic work value: A core value of freedom and growth
    • Guide people to actively make meaning through career decisions and transitions
    • Provide meaning to the pursuit

Protean Career Process

The protean career process can be conceptualized as a set of meta-competency for developing a protean career. While protean career orientation provides a foundation and motivation for a protean career, the protean career process provides the ability to carry out a protean career. In general, the protean career process involves three central meta-competencies:

  • Identity awareness: the awareness of one’s vocational identity grounded in personal values in career decision making
    • Provides a clear set of personal values to guide career choices
    • Provides the motivation and passion to pursue a path with a “heart” and represent personal callings
  • Career adaptability: The ability and readiness to change effectively in accordance with unpredictable working conditions and to cope with obstacles.
    • Provides the competencies to learn from the ever-changing environment
    • Critical for self-learning and making career transitions
  • Agency: The capacity of human beings to make choices and to impose those choices on the world.
    • Provides the ability to make things happen through one’s actions
    • Provides the resources for action to pursue career success

Protean Career Outcome

A protean career and its facets often predict favourable career outcomes. Amongst the outcomes, subjective and objective career success, as well as organizational commitments are the most well-studied. 

  • Subjective career success: Individuals; psychological experiences of success relative to their own goals and expectations
    • Psychological wellbeing
    • Career and job satisfaction
    • Work engagement
    • Perceived employability
  • Objective career success: Observable, measurable, and verifiable accomplishments
    • Salary
    • Promotion
    • Job level
  • Organizational commitment: The level of engagement and dedication employees feel toward their organization.
    • Affective commitment
    • Better task performance
    • Lower turnover intentions (only when the organization’s culture and values support employees’ growth, self-direction, and values orientation)


In general, protean career is an important construct central to career success in modern living. Notably, the manifestation of a protean career requires the possession of all components of protean career orientation and process. Possessing partial protean career elements may even lead to problematic decisions making, such as rigid career choices, and inhibit career proactivity. Given the strong potential of protean careers, it is highly suggested that the education system and organizations should nurture protean careers among our new generation and existing employees.



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