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Employability and the Belgian Case

11 November 2017, by Wouter Van Bockhaven
  • #mobility


In this conference paper, I dive a bit deeper into the repeated observation that for some reason (actually probably quite a few – historically grown – reasons), Belgians don’t like to be very mobile in their careers. As this is totally consistent with other, deeply ingrained, aspects of Belgian culture, you might say that that’s their choice. If Belgians want lifetime employment with the same company, why should we try to convince them otherwise?

In any case, it’s an interesting context to see whether a low appetite for employability has an impact on success. 

As the land of waffles, chocolates, french fries (that’s right, they’re not French!), and of course the best beers in the world, you might think of Belgium a little bit as that cosy little place where everything stays the same, in which the brutal trends of globalization, digitization, and geopolitical upheaval get no traction. A bit like the hobbits’ peaceful shire, oblivious of the wars of middle earth. Or that one Gaulic village to stubbornly withstand the mighty Roman empire – or in this case, the ‘new’ career model based on employability and mobility.

However, as the center of the European Union, as a mostly export-driven and knowledge-intensive economy, and as a truly open market with nearly the highest labor costs in the world, there is little hope that such a picturesque worldview could be of any use. Not for companies, not for individuals. 

I mean, which company would you trust to provide you with lifelong employment these days?

If you’re not sure, then you probably shouldn’t rely on a loyalty-based psychological contract either. Instead, it should then be based on a mutual, emancipated (empowered if you will) responsibility to achieve personal, economic and organizational goals together until the fit is no longer there. 

In fact, when you look at career outcomes, it might do Belgian workers more harm than good to keep on sticking to the old, stable, career model. In this study, I propose a connection and an explanation as to why low career mobility would lead to lower career (and organizational) success. 

The study finds a significant link between career mobility / self-directedness (the inclination to be mobile and to take charge of one’s career) and positive psychological capital (psycap, the combination of self-efficacy, hope, resilience, and optimism). 

What’s interesting about this, is that the implication is one big hairy compelling argument for even the notoriously employability-resistant Belgians to be mobile in their careers. For, a recent meta-analysis revealed that Psycap could finally be the silver bullet that drives both individual and organizational success. 

So, even though Belgians don’t like to be mobile, this definitely doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t!

Next step: I’ll test the model including career outcomes.

If you have an opinion on whether or not we should be mobile in our careers (to a degree of course), or if you’ve experienced any favorable/perverse effects of career mobility, leave a comment here and I’ll get back to you to see what the science has to say. Or to include it into my next research steps  🙂  



About the author

Wouter Van Bockhaven

Wouter Van Bockhaven, PhD is co-founder and CEO of TalentLogiQs™ and part-time professor of innovation ecosystems and business research methods at Antwerp Management School. His interest lies in developing knowledge and tooling at the nexus of strategy, individual and group behavior, and the sustainable alignment of incentives and perspectives of individuals and organizations.