A qualitative analysis of executive career decisions for sustainable careers from a distributed interactive decision-making perspective

Hallpike, Helen Frances (2022) A qualitative analysis of executive career decisions for sustainable careers from a distributed interactive decision-making perspective. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The purpose of this thesis was to explore executive decision-making for a sustainable career from a distributed interactive perspective. The research adopted an interdisciplinary approach, combining recent research on sustainable careers with theoretical concepts from judgement and decision-making. The first academic paper was conceptual: it proposed a new framework for career development and sustainability, in which the career trajectory was determined both by the person and decision-making agents in their career context, such that career decisions were made in a decision-making unit (DMU) which changed over time. The second paper applied the decision-making framework empirically to executives’ career decisions. The findings were that executives made decisions through interaction with their context, as embodied by other decision-makers and the career paths, or scripts, afforded by the context; and secondly, executives contributed to their own career decisions at different levels, ranging from proactive to reactive participation along with other agentic decision-makers in the process. The third paper investigated the personal development of executives in relation to their career context, focusing on the development of the vocational self-concept, in the light of the changing demands of their career context. The study found that, overall, career decisions were driven by the individual’s broad vocational self-concept as a successful businessperson, but that there were differences regarding the career context, in terms of family caring duties, between the vocational self-concepts of two groups, who in our sample mainly divided between men and women. The fourth paper applied the career decision-making framework specifically to participants’ decisions to retire or to sustain their careers. The main findings were that a later stage career could be sustained through re-engagement or reinvention, and that for this it was necessary for the executive and their career context to interact actively to make their career sustainable. The overall thesis makes the following original contribution to the literature on sustainable careers and career decision-making: Firstly, it highlights the active participation of a range of decision-making agents in the career decision-making process. Secondly, we reveal how executives’ participation in the career decision-making process is variable, in that decision-makers are not proactively engaged with each decision, as is assumed in normative decision-making models. Instead, each decision-maker contributes to the process with varying levels of proactive participation. Thirdly, a very specific vocational self-concept may not be sustainable in a changing work context, but, conversely, executives may adopt a broader vocational self-concept to achieve a sustainable career. Furthermore, the vocational self-concept can differ between different groups, represented in the sample by a divide between men and women, based on family and other circumstantial considerations. Finally, the thesis extends the literature on judgement and decision-making and sustainable careers specifically to older workers, by identifying the factors and actions required to sustain the later stages of a career and presenting them in a new career sustainability matrix.

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