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Career transition general principles

Our work lives are always changing – whether it is entering the workforce for the first time, becoming a parent, changing careers or retiring. Supporting people through these transitions can help individuals and the organisation.

Part of the Supporting career transitions module.

What is a career transition? 

A transition is the process of navigating life stages or events that change our changed roles, relationships, routines and assumptions. Transitions can also occur for non-events; i.e. things that we expect to happen but do not happen in the end. 

Some transitions can be normal, expected and planned (e.g. entering the workforce and retiring); others are unanticipated or surprising (e.g. changing career, being made redundant). With each change, we go through a transition period to find our ‘new normal’, and this period can be uncomfortable and challenging. 

The major career transition points are: 

  • Entering the workforce: The first paid role or moving into career-type roles as an apprentice or graduate. 
  • Learning to lead: Becoming a leader, supervisor or manager. 
  • Parenting and caring: Taking on and managing caring responsibilities, such as parenting or family-based care. 
  • Redundancy and career changes: Where roles are made redundant, or where one chooses to shift to a new career direction. 
  • Health-related changes: Health and physical changes conditions, such as cancer or illness, menopause or gender-affirmation. 
  • Relocation: Moving within Australia to a new state or city, or moving to another country for work. 
  • Crises and career shocks: Unanticipated events, including the death of a loved one, divorce or separation, work or personal crises or major disasters such as fires, floods, droughts or pandemics. 
  • Late career and retirement: Late career and transitions into retirement from paid work. 

What organisations can do to support career transitions 

Supporting people experiencing transitions is as good for your organisation as it is for the individuals. It increases productivity, enriches organisational culture, helps attract and retain talent, and can protect mental health through this transition. 

Here are things your organisation can do to support people experiencing a career transition: 

  • Build inclusive policies and practices – e.g. avoid meeting times that are hard for those with caring roles or health conditions, support and enable remote working where possible, and use language that destigmatises change. 
  • Develop supportive managers – e.g. develop managers’ skills so they can support workers as they adapt to change. 
  • Support flexible work arrangements – e.g. be flexible about how work is completed, the hours and location of work; focus on results rather than visible hours worked. 
  • Know the demographics of your organisation – i.e. so you can predict and plan for likely transitions in the workforce. 
  • Tailor approaches locally for individuals and teams – i.e. give local managers and supervisors autonomy and flexibility in managing teams and determining appropriate supports. 
  • Build a learning culture – e.g. encourage a ‘fail fast’ approach, allow workers to trial new approaches and find the best ways for them to adapt to change. 
  • Take a person-centred approach – i.e. put the person experiencing transition at the centre of decisions that affect them. Make sure you ask what they need and do not assume. 
  • Normalise experiences of change and transition – e.g. talk about transitions as part of a career lifecycle. 

What people can do to support their own career transitions 

A person's ability to cope in times of transition can be affected by 4 sets of factors: 

  • situation – the characteristics of the event, e.g. timing, role, level of control, stress levels
  • self – the person's individual and demographic characteristics, e.g. gender, age, health, socioeconomic status 
  • support – the person's support network, e.g. family, friends, workplace, community 
  • strategies – the person's existing coping responses, e.g. reframing, self-care, controlling meaning. 
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