Sub-theme 62: Time is of the Essence. Reviving the Temporal Perspective on Careers

Hugh Gunz
University of Toronto, Canada
Nathalie Louisgrand
Grenoble Ecole de Management, France
Wolfgang Mayrhofer
WU – Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria

Call for Papers

Time is a fundamental construct not only for organization studies (e.g. Schultz & Hernes, 2013), but also for understanding careers. Major voices point towards the importance of time for studying careers, as reflected in Hughes’s (1958: 63) understanding of career as “moving perspective in which the person sees his life as a whole”, in Arthur et al.’s (1989: 8) view of careers as “the evolving sequence of a person's work experiences over time”, or in Gunz and Mayrhofer’s (2018: 71) suggestion to see careers as a “pattern of a career actor’s positions and condition within a bounded social and geographic space over their life to date”.
As a consequence, time permeates all work on careers and has played a particularly prominent role in two distinct traditions in career research:

  • First, time appears in classic career studies in the form of models of the developmental and career stages through which actors pass during their lives. Examples include Erikson’s (1963) eight stage model; models by Super (1957), Levinson et al. (1978) and Bateson (1989; 2011) that are more concerned with the adult or late stages in life; and models concerning the development of individuals’ work career (e.g. Schein, 1978).

  • Second, timetables play an important role in describing and understanding careers. Baltes and Nesselroade (1984) draw attention to evolutionary (history-graded) time, namely “fairly general (normative) events or event patterns experienced by a given cultural unit in connection with biosocial change, for example, as evidenced by cohort effects” (ibid.: 843). Such timetables (Zerubavel, 1976; Roth, 1963) provide an important angle on careers. People in general (Collin, 2000) and managers in particular (Sofer, 1970) are very sensitive to their positioning on their career timetable (Lawrence, 1984).

For the last few decades, career research has only partially reflected the importance of time in the understanding of career (Gunz & Mayrhofer, 2018). Even though the temporal perspective played an important role in some contributions (e.g. Koch et al., 2017; Bidwell & Mollick, 2015; Kattenbach et al., 2014; Bidwell & Briscoe, 2010) and the concept of time is prominent in organization studies (e.g. Johns, 2001; Shipp & Fried, 2014; Orlikowski & Yates, 2002), it has not been at the center of attention. This is hardly surprising since integrating time leads to a number of formidable tasks that one faces in practical or theoretical terms. For example, practically research covering broad time spans are resource-intensive. Theoretically, conceptualizations of time vary widely as illustrated by Hall’s (1983) interpretation of time as culture, McTaggart’s (1908) A- and B-series of time, Jaques’ (1982) kairos (subjective) versus chronos (objective) axes of time, Wax’s (1959) differentiation between open and closed systems of time or Heidegger’s (1962 [German orig. 1927]) link between being and time. This makes its application both interesting and difficult. Nevertheless, despite these issues a better integration of a temporal perspective into career studies seems crucial for improving our understanding of this phenomenon.
This sub-theme provides a forum for conceptual and empirical papers exploring the link between time and careers, in particular from the following lenses:

  • First, it calls for contributions that strengthen the temporal dimension in career theorizing. This includes the clarification of the notion of time that underlies the respective framework(s) used for research and to assign time an adequate place in the architecture of the theory or framework used for one’s studies.
  • Second, it invites contributions that strengthen the temporal dimension in empirical research designs. This includes trend, panel, and cohort designs as well as studies that provide an inroad into personal perception, emotions and cognitions about time and its relationship to action that include (e.g. through in-depth interviews) narrative studies and hermeneutic text analyses based on subjective reconstruction of time-related experiences.
  • Finally, the sub-theme invites contributions that address time across different levels of social complexity. Time is a career relevant issue both at the individual and the organizational level, e.g. illustrated by the relationship between individual time perspectives and the timing of organizational processes. It also concerns the level of occupation, e.g. length of feedback cycles and time horizons for planning, or how occupation-specific time aspects are related to general expectations about careers, e.g. the kind of career progress and rate of advancement, and to the decision making criteria that individuals use during their career. At the societal level, cultures have different concepts of time, e.g. long-term vs. short-term or linear vs. cyclical, that leads to effects of culture-ased time conceptualizations on the design of organizational career management systems.



  • Arthur, M.B., Hall, D.T., & Lawrence, B.S. (1989): “Generating new directions in career theory: The case for a transdisciplinary approach.” In: M.B. Arthur, D.T. Hall & B.S. Lawrence (eds.): Handbook of Career Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 7–25.
  • Baltes, P.B., & Nesselroade, J.R. (1984): “Paradigm Lost and Paradigm Regained: Critique of Dannefer’s Portrayal of Life-Span Developmental Psychology.” American Sociological Review, 49 (6), 841–847.
  • Bateson, M.C. (1989): Composing a Life. New York: Penguin.
  • Bateson, M.C. (2011): Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom. New York: Vintage.
  • Bidwell, M., & Briscoe, F. (2010): “The Dynamics of Interorganizational Careers.” Organization Science, 21 (5), 1034–1053.
  • Bidwell, M., & Mollick, E. (2015): “Shifts and Ladders: Comparing the Role of Internal and External Mobility in Managerial Careers.” Organization Science, 26 (6), 1629–1645.
  • Collin, A. (2000): “Dancing to the music of time.” In: A. Collin & R.A. Young (eds.): The Future of Career. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 83–97.
  • Erikson, E.H. (1963): “Eight ages of man.” In: E.H. Erikson (ed.): Childhood and Society. New York: W. W. Norton, 247–274.
  • Gunz, H., & Mayrhofer, W. (2018): Rethinking Career Studies. Facilitating Conversation Across Boundaries with the Social Chronology Framework. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hall, E.T. (1983): The Dance of Life. New York: Doubleday.
  • Heidegger, M. (1962 [German orig. 1927]): Being and Time. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
  • Hughes, E.C. (1958): Men and Their Work. Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press.
  • Jaques, E. (1982): The Form of Time. New York: Crane Russak & Co.
  • Johns, G. (2001): “In praise of context.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 22 (1), 31–42.
  • Kattenbach, R., Schneidhofer, T.M., Lücke, J., Latzke, M., Loacker, B., Schramm, F., & Mayrhofer, W. (2014): “A quarter of a century of job transitions in Germany.” Journal of Vocational Behavior, 84 (1), 49–58.
  • Koch, M., Forgues, B., & Monties, V. (2017): “The Way to the Top: Career Patterns of Fortune 100 CEOS.” Human Resource Management, 56 (2), 267–285.
  • Lawrence, B.S. (1984): “Age Grading: The Implicit Organizational Timetable.” Journal of Occupational Behaviour, 5 (1), 23–35.
  • Levinson, D.J., Darrow, C., Klein, E., Levinson, M., & McKee, B. (1978): The Seasons of a Man’s Life. New York: Knopf.
  • McTaggart, J.M.E. (1908): “The Unreality of Time.” Mind, 17 (68), 457–474.
  • Orlikowski, W.J., & Yates, J. (2002): “It’s about time: temporal structuring in organizations.” Organization Science, 13 (6), 684–700.
  • Roth, J.A. (1963): Timetables: Structuring the Passage of Time in Hospital Treatment and Other Careers. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.
  • Schein, E.H. (1978): Career Dynamics: Matching Individual and Organizational Needs. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  • Schultz, M., & Hernes, T. (2013): “A Temporal Perspective on Organizational Identity.” Organization Science, 24 (1), 1–21.
  • Shipp, A.J., & Fried, Y. (eds.) (2014): How Time Impacts Groups, Organizations, and Methodological Choices. East Sussex: Psychology Press.
  • Sofer, C. (1970): Men in Mid-Career. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Super, D.E. (1957): The Psychology of Careers: An Introduction to Vocational Development. New York: Harper.
  • Wax, M. (1959): Time, Magic, and Asceticism: A Comparative Study of Time Perspectives. Chicago: University of Chicago.
  • Zerubavel, E. (1976): “Timetables and scheduling: On the social organization of time.” Sociological Inquiry, 46 (2), 87–94.
Hugh Gunz is Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, Canada. He has published on the careers of managers, professionals and others, the management of professionals of many kinds, and management education, has authored and co-authored monographs on career scholarship, and co-edited two handbooks – for SAGE and Routledge – on career studies. Hugh serves or has served on the editorial boards of a number of journals, including ‘Journal of Professions and Organization’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Journal of Managerial Psychology’, and ‘Emergence’.
Nathalie Louisgrand is an Assistant Professor of Human Resource Management and Intercultural Management at Grenoble Ecole de Management, France. Her research focuses on boundaryless and international careers, but also on knowledge transfer specifically within the domain of French haute cuisine in China. Before joining academia, Nathalie has been a translator into French of several books of Modern Chinese literature for famous French publishing houses as Le Seuil or Flammarion.
Wolfgang Mayrhofer is Professor and Head of the Interdisciplinary Institute of Management and Organisational Behaviour, WU – Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria. He conducts research in comparative international human resource management and leadership, careers, and systems theory and management and has received national and international awards for outstanding research and service to the academic community. Wolfgang has widely published, serves as editorial or advisory board member of several international journals and research centres and regularly consults with organizations in the for-profit and non-profit world.