“Retention and Its Discontents: How Ideal Workers With Family Aspirations Navigate Career Decision-Making”
Professor Carrie Oelberger, University of Minnesota, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Friday, February 23, 2018
10:30 am – 12:00 pm
SB1 5200 (Porter Colloquia Room & Executive Terrace)
Every career decision forces the worker to grapple with the possibility of realizing – or repressing – deeply held desires. As such, career decisions are the fruit of protracted deliberation with high emotional stakes, not simply rational calculations of advancement. Moreover, modern careers provide nearly constant opportunities to engage in these reflections. Using interview and detailed career history data from 70 international aid workers, I examine the career decision-making process for people who are extremely devoted to work, enacting ideal worker norms, but who also desire a family. While resolving any work-family conflict is difficult, I find that people with family aspirations experience greater stress in decision-making than their family-rooted counterparts due to the uncertainty of their situation. I show how people navigate these crises by reflecting upon the possibility of transitioning their desires into realities, detailing how they consider the uncertainty of their situation, the breadth of options they perceive, and the temporal durability of those options. Even after a process of deep reflection, many people nonetheless choose to double down and prioritize work, suggesting that people who are devoted to work tend to fear the loss of meaning that it provides. As such, organizations may paradoxically retain employees who are devoted to work, but are personally discontented. These findings hold implications for research on work-family, labor market inequalities, and careers.