ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (5): 854-865.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.00854

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A new categorization of career shocks and their effects based on different theoretical explanations

ZHANG Ying1(), ZHANG Jian2, ZHANG Jingya1, GONG Zhenxing3   

  1. 1School of Economics and Management, China University of Geosciences Beijing, Beijing 100083, China
    2School of Economics and Management, University of Science and Technology Beijing, Beijing 100083, China
    3School of Business, Liaocheng University, Liaocheng 252000, China
  • Received:2022-07-01 Online:2023-05-15 Published:2023-02-13
  • Contact: ZHANG Ying


Uncertainties in the external environment are constant and difficult to predict in a world filled with VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity; Bennett & Lemoine, 2014), which has caused career shocks to become an increasingly important part of current career scholarship. Akkermans et al. (2018) defined a career shock as “a disruptive and extraordinary event that is, at least to some degree, caused by factors outside the focal individual’s control and that triggers a deliberate thought process concerning one’s career” (p. 4). These authors suggested that the occurrence of a career shock can either be positively or negatively valenced (Akkermans et al., 2018); that is, positive career shocks are more likely to be associated with positive career outcomes, and negative shocks are more likely to be associated with negative outcomes. However, due to individual differences in the cognition of events or time factors, this categorization may have some shortcomings. We found that the literature includes several theoretical perspectives that have been or could be used to scaffold our understanding of the positive or negative impacts of career shocks, and a multiperspective model may provide evidence to support the reclassification of career shocks and help clarify the effects of career shocks. First, we found that the main reasons for the positive or negative effects of career shocks on employees’ behaviour can be explained in terms of different mechanisms and processes. More specifically, the transactional model of stress and coping, the job demands-resources model, and affective event theory could help elucidate how different cognitive, motivational and emotional responses to a career shock can influence the effects of such shocks on behavioural outcomes, those providing insights into the different processes by which shocks impact outcomes. Event system theory focuses on the characteristics or attributes of career shock events that make them salient and therefore likely to impact such outcomes, which could also help explain how their impacts can be extended over time as events vary in duration and timing or as event strength evolves. Second, based on the transactional model of stress and coping, the present study proposed a new classification of career shocks, namely, challenging career shocks and hindering career shocks. Third, we explored the mechanism underlying the impacts of challenging and hindering career shocks on individual behaviour based on the transactional model of stress and coping, the job demands-resources model, and affective event theory. We proposed that challenging career shocks are positively related to problem-focused coping, work engagement and positive affectivity and that hindering career shocks are positively related to emotion-focused coping, burnout and negative affectivity. Furthermore, the attributes (e.g., the strength) of events could moderate the effects of career shocks. Finally, we identify a number of avenues for future research, including developing the concept and attributes of career shock, enriching the empirical research on the new classification of career shocks, exploring additional mechanisms underlying career shocks, and examining the outcomes of career shocks. The present study contributes to the emerging career shock literature by providing a new perspective on the classification of career shocks and developing a new dedicated theoretical model to help us understand the mechanisms underlying career shocks and their effects on career processes as well as behavioural outcomes more completely. Our study also has important practical implications for helping employees make sense of and prepare for career shocks; this research can also improve the ability of career counsellors and managers to help employees better cope with career shocks by avoiding their negative impacts, which is conducive to the long-term and stable development of organizations and employees.

Key words: Career shocks, cognitive appraisals, motivation orientation, affect reaction, event attributes

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