Career Well-Being: Defined and Strengthened

By Lawrence K. Jones and Juliet Wehr Jones

Societal interest in “well-being” is rapidly accelerating and, considering “fostering well-being” is a part of NCDA 2016 Career Development Conference theme, it is a topic of interest for career counselors across practice settings. Research shows that well-being is associated with numerous health, job, family, and economic benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers an excellent summary of what is known about the concept today, as well as the following description of what the term includes:

  • Physical well-being and wellness (feeling very healthy, full of energy)
  • Positive engagement (love of learning new things; absorption in and focusing on what one is doing)
  • Personal meaning (the sense that what one does in life is valuable, worthwhile)
  • Self-esteem, optimism, resilience
  • Sense of accomplishment.

This holistic, positive state of health and wellness goes beyond the absence of disease or mental illness.

Well-Being and Career Well-Being

Most of what we know about well-being comes from scientific analyses of data from the Gallup World Poll (GWP) — a large, continuous, and diverse survey that includes more than 150 countries, representing 98% of the world’s population. “Career well-being” is one of the five interdependent elements of well-being, identified by the GWP. The other four are social, financial, physical, and community well-being. Tim Rath and Jim Hart report this in their book Wellbeing (2010).

They begin their chapter on career well-being with its defining question, “Do you like what you do each day?” They continue, “This might be the most basic, yet important, wellbeing question we can ask ourselves. Yet only 20% of people give a strong “yes” in response. At a fundamental level, you need something to do, and ideally something to look forward to, when you wake up every day. What you spend your time doing each day shapes your identity, whether you are a student, parent, volunteer, retiree, or have a more conventional job” (p. 15).

They report that people usually underestimate the impact of career well-being on their overall well-being, “If you don’t have the opportunity to regularly do something you enjoy . . . the odds of your having high wellbeing in other areas diminishes rapidly. People with high Career Wellbeing are more than twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall” (p. 16).

Notice that “doing what you like to do each day” — career well-being — is much broader than the way “career” is typically used in our field. It is also different because it is one of five, interdependent elements of well-being.

As career practitioners and educators, we need to think broadly — in terms of Well-Being — the five elements and how they interact with each other.

  1. Career Well-Being: Do I like what I do each day?
  2. Social Well-Being: Do I have strong relationships and love in my life?
  3. Financial Well-Being: Am I effective in managing my economic life?
  4. Physical Well-Being: Do I have the health and energy to do what I want to do each day?
  5. Community Well-Being: Am I engaged with my community, the area I live in?

How do they affect each other, with this group or individual? What does this suggest about how we can help the most?

Methods for Strengthening Career Well-Being

When we focus on the question, “Do you like what you do each day?” we can implement this exploration in a number of ways, such as the three described below:

Holland’s Personality-Environment Fit. People like to do those things that fit their interests, skills, and values, and how they see themselves — which is how each of the Holland RIASEC personality types is described. For example,

People who are high on the Social type, have good skills in, and like to do things to help people — like teaching, counseling, nursing, or giving information; they value helping people and solving social problems; and see themselves as helpful, friendly, and trustworthy.

According to Holland’s theory, there are also six basic RIASEC work environments. Numerous studies show the degree of fit between individuals’ personality and environment is significantly related to both job and college success and satisfaction. This is strong evidence that “doing what you like to do” among people who share your interests, affects your performance and happiness — your career well-being.

Because there are several valid measures of the RIASEC types and professionally classified lists of occupations (as well as college majors and training programs) according to the RIASEC types, helping a client identify promising “things you like to do” is relatively easy. More

Motivated Skills and Strengths. Individuals find identifying the skills they love a powerful guide to strengthening their career well-being. Typically, practitioners ask the client to “Write down your past achievements, “good experiences”, over the past 2 – 5 years —the ones you feel you did well, enjoyed doing, feel proud of.” Then, the practitioner and client go through a process of pinpointing the skills the client enjoys using, followed by identifying the activities the client might “like to do” where they can use these skills. These might involve an occupation, college major, program of study, volunteer work, a second career, or something else. In this way, career well-being can be significantly strengthened. More.

Becoming a Free Agent Worker. An important way to lead a more balanced and satisfying life is to view a job for what it is: an economic exchange, labor for pay. To the extent individuals have valuable, marketable skills, they can be a “free agent,” just as athletes do in professional sports leagues. With this perspective, the practitioner can discuss options with the client to allow the client to more freely “do the things they like to do” and attend to their social, physical, financial, and community well-being. More.

Fostering a Positive State of Health and Career Well-Being

This new understanding of health and career is exciting and challenging. Our role is now seen as broader — “fostering well-being”. It is broader than finding a suitable occupation. It includes an awareness of the interdependence of the five elements of well-being — career, social, financial, physical, and community — and the need to respond appropriately. It reminds us of career well-being’s vital importance. All together, it challenges us in our thinking and actions.

For more resources and downloads, go to Strengthening Your Career Well-Being.

References & Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016). Well-being concepts. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/hrqol/wellbeing.htm

Career Key (2016). Holland's Theory of Career Choice and You: Enjoy greater success with a career or major that fits your personality. Strengthen your career well-being. Retrieved from https://www.careerkey.org/choose-a-career/hollands-theory-of-career-choice.html

Career Key (2016). Identify Your Motivated Skills, Dependable Strengths™. Retrieved from https://www.careerkey.org/identify-your-skills/motivated-skills-dependable-strengths.html

Career Key (2016). Strengthening Your Career Well-Being. This brief web article describes the concept, and links visitors to two free eBooks, to download: Strengthening Career Well-Being and Well-Being, A Primer for Professionals and Strengthening Your Career Well-Being, Saying “Yes!” Retrieved from https://www.careerkey.org/choose-a-career/career-well-being.html

Career Key (2016). The Free Agent Outlook on Work. Retrieved from https://www.careerkey.org/choose-a-career/free-agent-worker.html

Magyar-Moe, J. L., Owens, R. L., & Conoley, C. W. (2015). Positive psychological interventions in counseling: What every counseling psychologist should know. The Counseling Psychologist, 43(4) 508-557.

Rath, T. & Harter, J. (2010). Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. New York: Gallup Press.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish. New York: Free Press.

Wood, J. & Dunston, C. (2015). National career development month: Celebrating 50 years! Retrieved from http://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/113479/_self/CC_layout_details/false


Lawrence K JonesLawrence K. Jones, Ph.D, is Founder & Chairman of Career Key, and Professor Emeritus of North Carolina State University and a National Certified Counselor. He is the author of — career assessments (Occ-U-Sort, the Career Decision Profile, and The Career Key), books (The Encyclopedia of Career Change and Work Issues; Job Skills for the 21st Century, A Guide for Students), and journal articles (served on editorial boards of Career Development Quarterly and Journal of Counseling and Development). He received the annual Professional Development award of the American Counseling Association. He can be reached at lawrencejones@careerkey.org

Juliet Wehr JonesJuliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D. is President and CEO of Career Key. After 10 years as a labor and employment lawyer, she sought greater career well-being by making a career change to career development. She is the co-author of several Career Key articles and eBooks on choosing careers, college majors, and career clusters and pathways. To contact Juliet: julietjones@careerkey.org.

Printer-Friendly Version

1 Comment

Alyson Nyiri   on Tuesday 03/29/2016 at 04:18 PM

Excellent article with generous links to further resources!

With thanks,

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.