Time-wasters’ diary

Relaxing may be bad for you

Relaxing may be bad for you

Recent longitudinal research has established a link between students’ behaviour at university and their chances of job burnout or dissatisfaction.

In their article ‘Achievement strategies during university studies predict early career burnout and engagement’ (Journal of Vocational Behavior 75 2009), Katariina Salmela-Aro and her colleagues conducted investigations on over 200 Finnish students whilst at university and then 10, 14 and 17 years later.

The study showed that those students who more often engaged in task avoidance whilst at university were more likely to report burnout or disengagement with their careers in later life. Whilst, higher levels of optimism were linked to more engagement.

One possible explanation is that people who put off difficult tasks fail to develop important coping skills. It may be that, if you put off difficult academic work,  you are also likely to shy away from the hard task of thinking about your career. However, could it be that the procrastination and the career dissatisfaction are both results of some underlying factor, such as an aspect of personality or self confidence? See this article by Roy Baumeister and colleagues, which reviews and discusses the difficulty of measuring the effect of self-esteem on various areas of performance and satisfaction.

Perhaps again we are talking about learned helplessness or a related concept: self-efficacy. (For more on the link of self-efficacy to career choice, job performance and satisfaction, check out ideas of social cognitive career theory.)

  • Is this is a message careers staff and academics can both get behind?
  • How can we make the link in students’ minds between hard work in the present and satisfaction in the future?
  • How can we influence a student’s levels of optimism?

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  1. #1 by jefffromclapham on 18 September 2009 - 10:56

    Hello, just letting you know I’ve finally got around to engaging with this. Great stuff and I’ll be sure to keeping a closer eye on it from now on. Cheers, Jeff

    • #2 by David Winter on 18 September 2009 - 11:50

      Thanks Jeff. Feel free to contribute as well as watch. – David

  2. #3 by John King on 19 September 2009 - 21:57

    Alternatively, if your degree subject is unsuitable for you, dull, unengaging or poorly taught, it will negatively affect your future. Task avoidance is not necessarily due to the Bad Attitude of Modern Students. Or did they control for teaching quality, pedagogy and relevance?

    • #4 by David Winter on 21 September 2009 - 21:31

      Exactly! Correlation does not equal causation. Perhaps the impulsive decision making that leads you to choose a degree that you don’t enjoy and don’t work at also leads you to choose a career that is ultimately unsatisfying.

      There could be any number of explanations. Could be an interesting thing to raise with students themselves and see if they can generate alternative explanations.

      From what I can understand of the paper they used some complex statistical analysis to arrive at the result but it doesn’t seem to have included controling for any of the factors you mentioned or even a basic regression analysis to factor out other possible variables.

  3. #5 by Brammar on 21 September 2009 - 10:28

    Fascinating stuff. Good work Winter! I’m also quite interested in the self-efficacy of careers advisers themselves. What are implications for us as careers professionals in being able to address this issue with clients. Some might find it too directive to imply that if you are slouch at university you’re going to fail to cope in the workplace. Also, what about the anecdotal evidence of high fliers who scraped a third and have gone on to be charismatic and dynamic leaders, such as……er…..I’ll get back to you on that.

    • #6 by David Winter on 21 September 2009 - 21:43

      I’m not entirely convinced by this research myself. I don’t know enough about the statistics they use to question it properly. However, I have serious doubts about the assumptions they make and the conclusions they draw from the data. It’s interesting though.

      High flyers with thirds don’t necesarily disprove it if it is true. In fact, they might even add weight to the argument. The student with the third may have struggled really hard to achieve that despite not really being suited to an academic environment. That struggle may have prepared them perfectly to face the challenges of life after university.

      I think that questioning the beliefs and assumptions of careers advisers is what I’m about. I’m interested in exploring what is really effective rather than just adhering to a credo of non-directiveness.

      How about you contributing something on emotional labour…?

  4. #7 by David Winter on 24 September 2009 - 22:22

    This video from Predictably Irrational author Daniel Ariely shows an interesting approach to procrastination.

  5. #8 by John King on 26 September 2009 - 19:44

    I was going to contribute an insightful and well written response to this article but I never got around to writing it.

    • #9 by David Winter on 29 September 2009 - 16:36

      And I was going to reply with some thought-provoking comments interspersed with witty banter…

  6. #10 by David Winter on 9 October 2009 - 14:50

    Just a follow up. As an experiment, I mentioned this research in an induction talk I was giving jointly with an academic to first year students.

    I don’t know what effect it had on the students, but it impressed the academic that I could back up his message of ‘work hard’ with some research!

  7. #11 by David Winter on 13 October 2009 - 16:05

    And another follow up…

    I came across this excellent article on procrastination:

    The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure by Piers Steel (Psychological Bulletin 133(1), 2007, 65-94). Don’t be put off by the title; it’s actually quite entertainingly written. The last line of the abstract starts, ‘Continued research into procrastination should not be delayed…’

  1. On your best (planned) behaviour « Careers – in Theory

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