Career stability despite mobility norms: Work identification as a source of both dependence and free will

  • Sébastien Mainhagu
  • François Grima
  • Renaud Defiebre-Muller
Keywords: career, career stability, mobility, identification, work content, norms, positioning


Remaining in the same job or with the same employer for a long time, or even an entire career, is not viewed favorably in the dominant managerial discourse. Yet this is the reality for many employees in Europe. What are the mechanisms used by employees to assume this stability in the face of career norms that favor mobility? What is new in this research, with regard to the existing literature, is that it explains the career stability of employees in terms of identification mechanisms, in particular identification with the content of their work. Several results were obtained using the coding method to process the data collected in an association operating in the social sector. We began by distinguishing between four modalities of work content identification: normative, cognitive, emotive and performative. We went on to highlight two effects of work identification: the free will of agents, made possible by the argumentative resources they provide, and dependence on their work through the integration of structural constraints. Three types of arguments (factual, existential and normative) are identified which enable employees to adopt unique positions in relation to their career in the face of today’s mobility norms: distantiation, conciliation and conformity. The process-based model proposed contributes to a dialectical reading of careers—between structural and agentic effects—emphasizing the social mechanisms used by employees to “cope” with pressure to embrace career mobility.


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How to Cite
Mainhagu, S., Grima, F., & Defiebre-Muller, R. (2018). Career stability despite mobility norms: Work identification as a source of both dependence and free will. M@n@gement, 21(3). Retrieved from
Original Research Articles