Unravelling the process between career shock and career (un)sustainability: Exploring the role of perceived human resource management

Karen Pak*, Dorien Kooij, Annet H. De Lange, Maria Christina Meyers, Marc van Veldhoven

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)



Employees need a sustainable career to prolong their working lives. The ability, motivation and opportunity to work form an important basis for sustainable careers across the lifespan. However, over the lifespan of their careers employees are likely to experience several career shocks (e.g. becoming chronically ill or being fired) which might result in unsustainable trajectories. This study aims to contribute to the literature on sustainable careers by unraveling the process through which careers shocks relate to career (un)sustainability and what role perceptions of human resource practices play in the process. 


Three in-depth retrospective interviews with participants of 50 years and older were conducted and analyzed using a template analysis. 


Results showed that career shocks influence career sustainability through a process of changes in demands or changes in resources, which in turn, relate to changes in person-job fit. When person-job-fit diminished, the ability, motivation and opportunity to continue working decreased, whereas when person-job fit improved, the ability, motivation and opportunity to continue working improved as well. Organizations appear to be able to diminish the negative consequences of career shocks by offering job resources such as HR practices in response to career shocks. 

Research limitations/implications 

A limitation of this study is the retrospective nature of the interviews, which could have resulted in recollection bias. 

Practical implications 

This study gives HRM practitioners insight into the HR practices that are effective in overcoming career shocks. 


This study extends existing literature by including career shocks as possible predictors of sustainable careers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)514-539
JournalCareer Development International
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Career shocks
  • Sustainable careers
  • HR practices
  • LIFE


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