Exploring Career Well-Being: Receiving Support Can Help Achieve Success

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Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Method
  • Participants and Procedure
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Limitations and Future Directions
  • References


In the present study, an exploratory design was adopted, and qualitative methods were used to explore the basic elements of career well-being. A template analysis technique was used for data analysis. The study sample included 73 participants who were selected among Shahid Beheshti University staff in Tehran. The findings obtained from employees in various administrative sectors revealed twelve features of career well-being: a sense of satisfaction and happiness about career path, engagement, emotional stability, positive interpersonal relationships, a sense of purpose and meaning, self-fulfillment and competence, environmental mastery, positive organizational relationships, job performance, work-life balance, learning and development, and career transitions. It was identified that, besides other factors, receiving support from others can help you achieve success and career well-being. It was confirmed that new definitions of well-being have contributed to identifying the elements of career well-being and led to newer perspectives on career well-being.

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Keywords: Career, Career Well-being, Well-being, Qualitative.


Positive psychology is the scientific study of positive experiences, positive individual traits, self-actualization, and systems that facilitate human development (Seligman 2002). Positive psychology as a field related to well-being and optimal performance aims to lead the focus of clinical psychology toward something beyond the direct relief of pain and suffering (Seligman 2000). While many studies are conducted in this field, researchers pay less attention to the development of positive psychology as an approach in the field of career counseling (Harris et al. 2007). However, career consulting, instead of limiting itself just to assess personal interests, work values, and skills, can use the knowledge and tools obtained from positive psychology and expand it (Robitschek and Woodson 2006).

One of the elements of positive psychology that attracted considerable attention, and needs to receive more attention in the field of career counseling, is well-being. In the view of positive psychology, well-being is a construct, and in fact, it is a subject of positive psychology. One of the approaches to well-being is psychological well-being (Bowman 2010). Ryff (1989) provided a model for psychological well-being. Based on this model, psychological well-being is made up of six components: Acceptance and positive thinking about yourself, positive relations with others, autonomy, having purpose in life, personal growth, and environmental mastery (one's ability to effectively manage the environment and utilize the opportunities) (as cited in Kidd 2008). Ryff presented this model based on a literature review of mental health, and stated that the dimensions of the model are positive mental health criteria useful in measuring the person's well-being and positive functioning (Cheng and Chan 2005).

Psychological well-being refers to the person’s emotional and cognitive assessment of his/her life (Diener et al. 2003). Diener (2009) introduces three components of mental well-being. The first component involves the person’s satisfaction with various aspects of life (such as career, marriage and life in general) and the other two components, positive affect and negative affect, describe daily emotional experiences. In other words, a person who is satisfied with his/her life, and has more joyful experiences and only occasionally experiences such emotions as sadness and anger, has a high mental well-being. Conversely, a person who is not satisfied with his/her life, and experiences less joy and happiness and more negative emotions such as anger and sadness, has a low mental well-being. The construct of well-being has also been studied as occupational well-being (Schultz 2008) and career well-being (Kidd 2008). Schultz (2008), based on the Ryff’s definition of psychological well-being (1989), introduced six dimensions for occupational well-being, including positive organizational relationships, professional self-acceptance, job autonomy, job purpose, environmental mastery, and job growth. Positive organizational relationships are an index of social protection that employees receive at the workplace. Professional self-acceptance refers to positive feelings about oneself and personal abilities, and job autonomy refers to the employee’s decision-making ability regarding how and where tasks need to be done. The job purpose is realized when the employees perceive their jobs as a meaningful activity and feel that their job has a meaningful role in achieving the goals of the organization. Another important factor in promoting the level of occupational well-being is development opportunities. Low opportunities for development and progress in the workplace lead to dissatisfaction and a reduction in well-being. On the other hand, Kidd (2008), defined career well-being as involving positive emotional experiences in relation to the career path. Kidd (2008) introduced seven components of career well-being, including career transition (opportunities for voluntary mobility and successful adaptation to new roles), interpersonal relationships (gain support from others), relationship with organization (having autonomy and power), work performance (experiences in which people have been effective in achieving the requirements of their roles), a sense of purpose (a purposeful and optimistic approach to career path), learning and growth (development of knowledge and skills by participating in educational institutions) and work-life issues (balance between work and personal life).

However, other theories have been recently emerged about well-being in the field of positive psychology. One of the most important views in this regard belongs to Seligman (2012) presented in his book titled “Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness, Well-Being - And How to Achieve Them.” According to him, social well-being is composed of five measurable elements: 1- positive emotions (all aspects of which are encompassed in happiness and satisfaction with life), 2- passion, 3- relationships (positive), 4-meaning, and 5-achievement. In his view, none of these individual elements can define well-being, and all of them are involved in it. Some of these five components are measured subjectively using self-report scales, and others are objectively assessed.

There are also capacities and virtues such as kindness, social intelligence, sense of humor, courage, integrity and so on (24 capacity), which confirm the theory of the five elements or components of social well-being. This means that higher utilization of personal capabilities leads to higher levels of positive emotions, sense of meaning, success, and positive relationships. So, while in his previous theory of authentic happiness, Seligman talks about a good feeling and claims that the path we choose in our lives is an attempt to maximize this feeling, in his theory on well-being, he talks about all the five aspects. In other words, empowerment is the basis of the five components of well-being. In fact, well-being is a combination of feeling good, as well as having a sense of meaning in life, good relationships, and success. The goal of positive psychology in the theory of well-being is to help individuals improve actualization in their own lives and also in the life of others.

Previous studies such as Kidd (2008) considered well-being components only based on previous models such as Ryff’s (1989), and made no mention of new definitions. On the other hand, given to the developments in the positive psychology and emergence of new ideas about well-being, the existent components have some limitations, such as not paying enough attention to the new concept in the field of well-being proposed by Seligman (2012). In addition, the components of career well-being have never been carefully reviewed and tested by the researchers in Iran. It seems that the conceptual complexity and multi-dimensionality of well-being have contributed to the shortage of studies on this construct. Therefore, the current study aims to explore and identify the components of career well-being.


Participants and Procedure

The study sample included a total of 73 participants from Shahid Beheshti University’s staff in Tehran. Participants were in the age range of 23-57 years old with an average age of 38 years (standard deviation = 8/81). 34 participants (46%) were female. 31 participants (43%) had less than 10 years of work experience, and the other 42 (47%) had more than 10 years of work experience. There were no significant differences in age and work experience between the two groups (male and female). All participants were Iranian and lived in Tehran. 14 participants (19%) were managers. Participants were selected from university staff and different administrative sectors.

In the present study, an exploratory design was adopted, and a qualitative method was used to gather data. Using interviews, participants were asked open-ended questions about their career path (for example, their previous jobs). They were asked to answer the following questions in regard to their work life:

  1. Do you feel good about the jobs you had? Please describe and explain the reason.
  2. During the past four or five years, doing what works in your career path made you satisfied?

Participants were also asked to provide details about the job, employer, position, and type of organization that involved positive experiences for them.

Template analysis technique (King, 2004) was used to analyze the data. This technique involves the production of a list of themes identified in the literature. The initial list of themes was developed from 25 initial responses, and the same method was used to code the remaining responses. These were added to the template. After analyzing all responses using this method, the full template was used to code the complete set of responses. Researchers and a colleague (both trained and experienced in template analysis) first independently developed their own templates, then the templates were discussed and compared, and finally a list of 15 themes describing the desirable experiences of participants in their career path was agreed upon.

After this step, the templates were used to categorize the complete set of positive experiences. The average initial agreement on the 15 themes was 68% (meaning that 68% of the experiences were put into the same categories by the researchers). Differences were resolved by face to face discussions and giving reasons for each assignment, then the proper themes were agreed upon. The final step involved grouping the obtained themes into high-level categories. In this case also disagreements were resolved by discussion.


Because all the participants were university employees, the reports were, in general, related to a similar domain of job and organization. The components of career well-being along with the low-level categories related to each component. An example is provided for each category to illustrate the experience.

The main feature of career transition is an adaptation to the new role within the same organization or a new one, or a having a career path pattern such as an independent job. Career transition seems to be an important and powerful event leading to valuable career experiences, especially learning and development. For some people, the career transition itself is important and valuable and accompanied by a sense of freshness. The Interpersonal relationships category includes receiving support and appreciation from others that are presented in the form of a general support or receiving feedbacks on performance. Colleagues, supervisors, and clients were mentioned in equal numbers. For some of the participants, appreciation was equal to the salary increase, but in overall, it seemed that merely being appreciated for work was more important than financial rewards. Relationship with organization pertains to allowing the employees to work independently, having authority over decision-makings, and influencing others. Work performance refers to the experiences in which the individual has effectively fulfilled the requirements of his/her role. Job purpose involves choosing a career path or having a positive, optimistic, or purposeful approach to a career path. The learning and development category includes the development of knowledge and skills through participation in training or educational courses, both possible by enrolling in an educational institution. It includes a vision of learning new skills. The work life issues category involves finding a balance between work and personal life.


The positive features of career path revealed in the presents study are similar to those obtained in the previous works on adult well-being. The Five components of the Ryff’s well-being model (1989) were revealed in the present study: positive relations with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and personal development (learning and growth in work). In addition, all the features of career well-being mentioned by Kidd (2008), including career transition, interpersonal relationships, relationship with the organization, work performance, a sense of purpose, learning and growth, and work-life issues were confirmed in the present study. The components of Seligman’s well-being theory (2012), including positive emotion (in the present study, a feeling of satisfaction and happiness about career path), engagement, relationships (in the present study, positive interpersonal relationships), meaning (in the present study, a sense of purpose and meaning) and achievement (in the present study, fulfillment and competence) were also confirmed. In fact, it can be said that the components of career well-being obtained in the present study are a composition of the findings of Kidd (2008) and Seligman (2012). In addition, some of the job characteristics reported by Hackman and Oldham (1980) and Warr (2002) were related to the factors of career well-being obtained in the present study.

People may need job mobility in order to understand the opportunities for transition to new roles that provide new challenges. Some experts believe that job mobility is becoming more common (e.g. Arthur and Rousseau 1996), and it seems to be psychologically important for many people. In contrast, it is not surprising that when jobs are lost or individuals experience problems adapting to new roles, their career well-being is threatened. What distinguishes career well-being from occupational well-being, is the focus of career well-being on the career outlook. It also seems that career well-being involves good relationships with colleagues and supervisors. General support, feedback, and appreciation are of high importance. This finding is in line with the previous studies on psychological well-being (e.g. Hackman and Oldham 1980; Warr 2002) and with the previous findings of relationships in the workplace that suggest the importance of psychosocial, social, and instrumental support (e.g. Kram 1985) and career well-being (Kidd 2008).

The study findings are also consistent with the findings of London (1993) and Kidd (2008) on the importance of the support from a supervisor in the career commitment. The third feature of career patch well-being is the relationship of employees with their career roles or the organization they work for. Independence and authority were positive experiences for a significant number of participants. Hall (2004) and Kidd (2008) believe that a sense of independence and work responsibility is one of the key factors of diverse orientation and subjective success in the career path; the findings of the present study also confirmed this.

The study results also indicate that effective work performance is one of the elements of career well-being. As shown by Ryff (1989), long-term, active participation and environmental mastery is considered one of the key elements of positive psychological functioning. It seems that a sense of purpose and meaning is very essential for career well-being, and this is consistent with the view of Seligman (2012), Kidd (2008), and Hall (2004) on the importance of value-based approach in mental-career success. In addition, Ryff’s analysis (1989) of the features of mental health includes beliefs that give the person a feeling of having a purpose in life. Career well-being also includes the development of new skills or having the vision of developing these skills in the future. Lack of opportunities for development may negatively be associated with well-being. This finding is in line with the view of Hall and Mirvis (1996) about the diverse career path that includes the sequence of learning cycles. It is also essential to consider work-life issues in order to understand career well-being. This finding suggests that the problems arising from personal and family life may affect career well-being, and this along with the findings of a balance between work and other roles are considered squally for men and women (Aryee and Luk 1996).

Limitations and Future Directions

The present study had some limitations. For example, asking people to recall past events and experiences may lead to biased responses, use of defense mechanisms, and showing stereotypical ideas. Another limitation of the present study was related to the study sample; all participants were employees of Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran, Muslim, from the middle-class of the society, and Iranian. This limits the generalizability of the study findings. This was an exploratory study, and future studies are suggested to examine career well-being using more diverse samples.

The findings of this research imply the importance of providing career path counselling for employees and managers to support career path. Career path counselling often involves helping individuals choose a job compatible with their values, interests, and abilities, with an emphasis on understanding the differences between jobs (e.g. Holland 1997). But, the findings of the present study indicate that there are certain work features that lead to career well-being, regardless of the person-job accordance. Therefore, career path specialists that work with people in work transition, may be able to help them consider how close or far is their career path from these features. The career path specialists also need to put more focus on the organizational context of the job so that their clients can face the organizational changes in a better way. Most importantly, the study results consistent with the previous findings indicate that career counselors should help their clients explore and manage multiple social relationships as parts of their working life (Blustein et al., 2004). Managers should also try to facilitate career well-being by providing support and feedback and opportunities for learning aimed at helping their employees to have a successful performance on their work-related tasks and other important roles in their personal lives.


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