Edgar Schein’s Career Anchors

Edgar Schein, one of the founders in the field in modern organizational psychology, pointed out that, every one of us has a particular orientation towards work. As a result of which, we all approach our work with a set of priority and certain values. This concept is known as ‘Career Anchors’. It represents one’s combination of perceived career competence and includes talents, motives, values and attitudes that give stability and direction to a person’s career. It is regarded as the ‘motivator’ or ‘driver’ of that person. The Career Anchor depicts one’s highest priority needs and the factors of work lives one may not be willing to give up. Many people are not really clear about their need and competencies and make an inappropriate career choice, that lead to dissatisfaction and frustration at work. Knowing their Career Anchor properly, people develop sufficient insight to make intelligent and appropriate career choices.

Importance and Types of Career Anchors

Almost all organisations claim to serve the best interests of employees. In practice, they “manage” their workers careers with the best interest of the organization, not the employees. Very often, people tend to select a wrong career and find it incompatible at workplaces with their true values, resulting in feelings of unrest and discontent and lost in productivity. This necessitates becoming self-reliant, to choose and manage one’s career.

Career Anchors help an individual in conceptualizing his own perceived career. It encompasses one’s core areas of competence, motives, and career values. Very often, this perceived career anchor goes against organisational career plans and employees develop a sense of dissonance or certain incongruity about their career plans. Therefore, many organisations seek to identify perceived career anchors of their employees to develop matching career development programmes. Edgar H.Schein has identified eight such career anchors.

1. Technical/Functional Competence (TF):

The persons anchored in technical or functional competence are quite knowledgeable. They are primarily motivated to produce highly effective work in some particular field of specialization. Persons with such competencies prefer to take technically satisfying job such as engineering, systems analysts or it could be different functional areas of management like finance, production and marketing. Primarily, these types of people are motivated by the work content. They tend to identify and establish themselves with their expertise very strongly. The ability to succeed and get recognized in their own areas of specialty determines their self concept. People with this anchor seldom prefer generalist position. They prefer to be challenged and use their skill to meet the challenges by doing the job properly, better than the others.

2. General Managerial Competence (GM):

The advancement up in the corporate ladder to take higher levels of responsibility is the key motivation for people anchored in managerial competence. Unlike technical/functional people, fundamental characteristics of these folks are, they prefer to rise to the top, want to be manager. Managerial competence anchored people need to excel in the skills in three basic areas of management i.e analytical, interpersonal, and emotional.

Analytical competence is the ability to identify, analyze, and resolve problems under uncertain conditions and with incomplete information. Analytical competence helps them to identify and analyse problems and develop situations to resolve the same. They thrive on taking higher responsibility. Interpersonal competence is characterized by the ability to supervise and influence people, lead and control and motivate them towards achievement of organizational goals. They possess the ability and desire to handle a variety of interpersonal and group situations like problem-solving and tackling unfavorable situations. Emotional competence refers to the capacity to remain energized and proactive and to maintain calm without excessive anxiety or guilt at the time of high stress, emotional and interpersonal crises and at appearances of failure. They become competent and exert leadership powers to gain control over such type of situations, without much of problem. The persons anchored with managerial competence is characterized with all three attributes.

3. Autonomy/Independence (AU):

People who are anchored by this competence have a primary and overriding need to work with their own rules and procedure. They like to work under their own pace, follow their own format, take their own time, and remain independent of others to the greatest extent possible. Usually, they tend to avoid standards and are more comfortable to work alone. The autonomy-anchored person lacks in terms of loyalty and obligation to the employer organization. They would prefer to refuse promotion or transfer, if their independence is given up. They strive to be free, independent, and self-reliant. For which, these type of autonomous people seek to attain high level of education. Fixed working hours, lack of variety of work, defined work rule etc, prevent them from becoming functionally autonomous and independent for which they leave the job and start their own consultancy and freelancing. Teachers, professors, advertising professionals, management professionals belong to this category.

4. Security/Stability (SE):

Persons with a primary need of security and stability seek and prefer to choose secure and stable employment over challenging and riskier employment. Greater stability and continuity is the primary determinant factor for these types of people to lead their lives. They tend to avoid risks and uncertainty and are generally are ‘lifers’ in their jobs. This career anchored people prefer to work in Government and public sector undertakings.

5. Entrepreneurial Creativity (EC):

The individual driven by entrepreneurial anchor has a strong inner urge to create a new business of his own. He has all the motivation and courage to run the risk by overcoming all the obstacles. He is driven by a strong desire to get personal gain and recognition for his own accomplishment. Being anchored for creativity, such type of people prefers to take challenging work assignments. Through innovative product and process design, they create scope for their own identification.

Entrepreneurial need people differ from autonomy driven people. The entrepreneurship is firmly rooted and dedicated for ownership. Creating a marketable and profitable product or service regardless of the technology and irrespective of intellectual discipline is the objective of entrepreneurial activity. Basically, it aims at making large amount of money. These types of individuals seldom work for others for long periods of time. They are much eager to be fully active to work for an enterprise of their own. They put heavy weight to ownership and for them success is characterized by wealth.

6. Service/Dedication to a Cause (SV):

Service anchored people are principally motivated to dedicate their work and even if sometimes lives in the service of others. They may dedicate their service by working in a position, in which they get opportunities to serve others directly. The counselors, physicians, therapists, nurses or other helping or supportive occupations and professions belong to this category. Service may also include providing comfort, entertainment, athletic training, extending personal or business support activities, personal or administrative assistant or any other such type of support services that represents a contribution to others.

These people have a commitment for the preservation and realization of certain set of values, that they consider much important for their own lives as well as for the larger world. That causes the manifestation of dedication among them. Usually, money is not an important motivator for these types of people. They seek recognition for their work and cause along with along with financial and working support. Dedication to a charitable cause is not the only option for this anchor. A scientist having strong desire and concern for the environment may take up a job and serve the cause.

7. Pure Challenge (CH):

People driven by challenge often seek difficult problems as they can tackle it. Challenges matter at the highest possible level for these type of people. They define success in terms of winning the war or getting success over the game, bidding the contract or the sale. Overcoming obstacles, being the best, ranking the first, beating the competition, reaching at the highest, surpassing previous goals and such is the mantra they follow in their life.

Experiencing challenge is primary concern for these type of people than that of area of work or specific job. Most often, they seek variety in their careers as well as in their lives. In the absence or lack of challenge make them highly dissatisfied. They tend to change their jobs with getting bored in the current one and add variety in their career.

8. Lifestyle (LS):

Work is not the primary vehicle of self-expression for life-style anchored people. They are basically interested in ensuring a life balanced with various interests. They consider family, friends, hobbies, recreational and leisure activities as well as study and learning and other such work related subjects much significant in their career and life. They tend to develop their self-concepts in consideration of their total life style. The way they define and perceive their life style is the major determinant factor in choosing their careers. They prefer to take jobs, careers, occupations and organizations, that allow them to put all the major sectors of their lives together into an integrated whole. Usually, career decisions do not take over their lives.

Other Anchors

The complexity of behavior has identified several other categories of career concerns, though none have shown up consistently as “anchors”. “Variety,” “status or identity,” and “power” have been proposed as additional anchors. For example, the prefixes such as Major, Colonel, Brigadier used before the names of military personnel implicate a specific variety of career anchor. Such identification is so visible that they get special uniforms matching their levels in the organisation. Affiliate needs and interpersonal talents to work for a cause yet another anchor predominantly found in some persons. The search for power, influence, control and job variety are examples of other career anchors which people try to achieve in their occupational roles.

People are “concerned” much with each of these issues and most occupations fulfill these set of needs in several of those areas in different degrees in consideration of their relative importance by different people. Employees nurturing specific career anchors are required to make it explicit to the organisation in order to find a matching occupational role without much of behavioral dissonance. Knowledge of these all career anchors are essential for any organisation in order to plan career development.

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