Money Talks … Or?

Anders Dysvik

Financial success is important across cultures while the importance of maintaining a work-life balance differs between them.

Although studies mostly examine objective measures of success within single countries, subjective career success has emerged as an important variable in careers research. It captures individuals' own perception about their personal career achievement.

Professor Anders Dysvik and colleagues carried out a study on the relationship between career behaviours and two subjective measures of career success: financial success and work-life balance. A sample of 11,892 employees from 22 different countries allowed them to make comparisons across national cultures.

The study focused on proactive career behaviours, which are self‐initiated efforts employees make to progress in their careers through activities such as career planning, skill development, and consultation with senior colleagues.

Success Depends on Culture

“For subjective financial success, career proactivity was considered important across cultures, but more so in cultures with strong hierarchies that lack communication between different levels and where people express pride and loyalty toward their organisation, such as in Japan and China”, says Professor Dysvik. The study also shows that career proactivity has a positive impact on subjective financial success, especially in cultures like Japan and China.

For work-life balance on the other hand, career proactivity was regarded as more important in cultures that prioritised common group goals over personal goals and rewarded those who were altruistic and kind towards others, such as in the UK and US. At the same time, career proactivity did not necessarily lead to greater work‐life balance. Here, how much perceived organizational support an individual feels they receive may be more important than what the individual is proactively doing for feelings of work‐life balance.

What is Success?

The findings underline the need to treat subjective career success as a multidimensional form and highlight the complex role of national culture in shaping the outcomes of career proactivity. Understanding what contributes to individuals’ subjective career success is important because this is associated with greater life satisfaction and psychological well-being. It is also important for organisations because subjective career success can lead to lower turnover intentions and increased support for organisational change.


Original study: Smale, A, Bagdadli, S, Cotton, R, et al. Proactive career behaviors and subjective career success: The moderating role of national culture. J Organ Behav. 2019; 40: 105– 122. https://doi.org/10.1002/job.2316

Published 4. February 2020

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