Twisting the kaleidoscope

In our work with foundation doctors choosing their specialties, I pose a number of questions to help them to think about their choice in more depth. One of these questions is, ‘Have you thought about how your priorities will change over time?’ One of the female doctors accused me of aiming this question specifically at women because they are the ones likely to have to consider issues of work-family balance. However, many of the male doctors I’ve spoken to have also raised the issue of working hours and their impact on life outside work.

Last week the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published the research report Working Better: Fathers, family and work – contemporary perspectives. This quote from the conclusions sums up the main findings of the research.

The findings from this survey show that fathers’ attitudes towards parenting do not appear to match the reality of their work and care arrangements. Their rejection of traditional views, dissatisfaction with the time they spend with their children and their strong support for extended paternity leave shows a willingness to be involved in the day-to-day care of their children. In practice, however, most fathers still work full time, and many work long hours.

See the press release for other key highlights. In the report, they admit that the figures may be unrepresentative because men who are actively involved in sharing responsibilities for parenting are more likely to respond to the survey. Similarly, male doctors who are particularly concerned about work-life balance may be more likely to attend optional career management sessions.

Aaah! Pretty!

Ooooh! Pretty!

In 2005 Lisa Mainiero and Sherry Sullivan introduced the concept of Kaleidoscope Careers as a way to describe the changing priorities over the course of a person’s working life.

Within a kaleidoscope an vast number of complex patterns can be generated from a small number of coloured plastic shapes. Mainiero and Sullivan suggest that a the changing career priorities of an individual over their life-span can be described by the interplay of  three factors — the ABC of careers:

  • Authenticity — ensuring that your role and working environment are consistent with your values, ideals and sense of identity
  • Balance — ensuring that you achieve an optimum equilibrium between work and non-work (note this is not just balance between work and family life but between work roles and any other roles a person may be engaged in)
  • Challenge — ensuring that your working life is stimulating and that you are progressing or developing

They identified two main career patterns:

  • Alpha pattern careers — start with a desire for challenge prominent, later a desire for authenticity becomes more significant, eventually a desire for balance begins to take on more importance
  • Beta pattern careers — also start with a desire for challenge, then a desire for balance comes forward, then a desire for authenticity

They found that Alpha patterns were more often associated with men and Beta patterns with women, although there was a lot of variance.

But perhaps that is changing. Their most recent work on this looks at differences between generations and finds that Generation Xers tend to value authenticity and balance more than Baby Boomers. Maybe this increased drive for balance is being demonstrated in the EHRC report.

  • What mix of desire for authenticity, balance and challenge is prevalent in your clients?
  • How often do you get clients to anticipate how their priorities may change in the future?
  • How can you enable clients to engage with this sort of anticipation?
  • Do you assume that work-nonwork balance is primarily to do with the clash between demands of work and family?
  • Are you seeing an increased interest in work-nonwork balance issues amongst your male clients?

Further reading

Related post: Modes of growth

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  1. #1 by Aminder K Nijjar on 28 October 2009 - 12:07

    Thank you for another interesting post (and the pretty picture!).
    1. The desire for authenticity, balance and challenge is prevalent in clients, though not always articulated in those terms (unsurprisingly!). I find they become more apparent when a client has experienced some dissatisfaction in their career, often in an attempt to unpick, understand and leran from their experience(s).
    2. With clients, I may refer to how change is inevitable, in general terms, but would not necessarily focus on this, as it can be interpreted negatively (as you found with the female doctor).
    3. Work-life balance for me, would include work and family, but goes well beyond that too; in terms of work and how it is coloured by and colours a person’s life (and indeed those with whom the person associates). However, I think the more widely accepted interpretation is that of time spent between work and family etc.
    4. Think male clients are more comfortable talking about work-life balance issues, though not sure if I could actually pinpoint marked differences bertween the genders on this topic.
    Look forward to the next post!

    • #2 by David Winter on 28 October 2009 - 18:48

      Hi Aminder
      Yes, I think it is easier to discuss these issues with someone with a bit of life experience. These conflicts frequently come up in my work with career changers, but more rarely with undergraduates.

      I wonder if we should be telling more stories to undergrads so that these concepts can become a bit more real to them. Possibly using alumni to talk to them about the complexity of managing a career – rather than just to promote particular occupations.

      I think I would rather raise the issue and risk a negative interpretation than leave people unprepared. In the session with the female doctor I turned it into a discussion about how one’s priorities might change generally – introducing a bit of developmental theory along the way.

      The distinction between work-family balance and work-nonwork balance has a personal interest to me. I don’t have kids, but I do have a life outside work that I want to invest in. I sometimes think that this can go unheard in the noise made by and about parents’ needs.

  2. #3 by Aminder K Nijjar on 29 October 2009 - 12:13

    Hi David,
    Agree with you about involving alumni – there is a great deal more to what they can (and would like to-?) do, and some universities (and some careers services) in the UK seem to be tapping into this a little more.
    You’re right about not avoiding issues that may risk a negative interpretation, if they are handled well. Otherwise we’ll become another one on the list of ‘careers people who told me I couldn’t/shouldn’t…’!

  1. Classics – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs « Careers – in Theory
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  3. Puppies and ping-pong balls « Careers – in Theory

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