By Mirit Grabarski

Traditionally, work was seen as a source of income and defined by its economic value – “what people do for financial compensation in order to make a living” (Brief & Nord, 1990 p.2). People looked for self-fulfillment outside of work, in things such as hobbies and leisure time. With the technological, economic and social changes in the late 20th century, as well as with the developmental of humanistic psychological theories and examination of human needs, work became an integral part of one’s self-actualization. It became a way to demonstrate personal values and find meaning, grow and learn, build relationships and realize talents.

This change in perceptions is reflected in the history of career theories – from finding what a person will be good at (Holland, 1985) to what people need to be fulfilled in their career (Hall, 1976; Mainiero & Sullivan, 2006) and how they construct meaning (Savickas, 2002). The state of the current research reflects this trend – in a recent review of the Journal of Vocational Behavior, employee well-being was listed as the most prominent research topic (Byington, Felps & Baruch, 2019). In a way, the focus has shifted from compensation, or objective success, to satisfaction, or subjective success.

In my doctoral research I explore the perceptions of agency that people have over their careers as a way to understand career motivations. My findings from a pilot study with 18 business students and a qualitative study with 31 interviewees from various vocational backgrounds support the modern career theories to a large extent, when factors such as a need for growth and challenge, personal meaning and a desire to make in impact were found to act as important motivators of career decisions. However, one interesting finding was that money still plays an important role in career decision-making. While often people expect the workplace to provide them opportunities to realize their potential, financial considerations are still an important factor that may influence career decisions in multiple ways. First, compensation is still a parameter of objective career success, which some people find motivating by itself. Second, financial security might act as a need that has to be fulfilled, especially for people who experienced poverty or insecurity during childhood. Finally, money, or financial security, may act as a moderator – enabler or suppressant of other motivating factors: with sufficient funds people are more willing to fulfill their other career needs, such as work-family balance, actualizing work values with a more meaningful job, or taking more risks; on the other hand, not having enough funds might lead to postponing self-actualization or making decisions that are seen as a compromise. Says one participant (M, 51, administrator): “I still have that ‘I want to be able to provide for my family’ and that’s a huge driver for me… and at the end of the day I want my kids to be okay, and I also want my standard of living to be where it is now and I don’t want it to decrease.” As compensation still plays an important role in career decision-making, it is essential to adapt career theories to include this factor, for a more compete and accurate picture of the reality.


Author Bio

Mirit Grabarski is a doctoral student in Ivey Business school at Western University. Her research interest lies in the intersection of career development and gender roles. She is also interested in the Positive Organizational Scholarship movement and specifically issues such as empowerment and resilience.



Brief, A. P., & Nord, W. R. (Eds.). (1990). Meanings of occupational work: A collection of essays. Free Press.

Byington, E. K., Felps, W., & Baruch, Y. (2019). Mapping the Journal of Vocational Behavior: A 23-year review. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 110(1), 229-244.

Hall, D. T. (1976). Careers in organizations. Goodyear Pub. Co.

Holland, J. L. (1985). Making Vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments. Prentice-Hall.

Mainiero, L. A., & Sullivan, S. E. (2006). The Opt Out revolt: When people are leaving companies to create Kaleidoscope careers. Davies-Black Publishing.

Savickas, M. L. (2002). Career construction: A developmental theory of vocational behavior. In D. Brown & associates (Eds.), Career Choice and Development (4th ed., pp. 149-205). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.