Every career decision invites an opportunity to realize – or repress – deeply held desires. Furthermore, modern careers provide recurrent possibilities to engage in these reflections. I examine career decision-making for people who are extremely devoted to work, embracing ideal worker norms, but who also desire a family, what I come to call family aspirations. Using interview and detailed career history data from 82 international aid workers, I analyze how respondents experienced and coped with a clash between their work devotion and their family aspirations. I find that people experience different degrees of turmoil during the decision-making process resulting from their different perceptions of the possibility to realize their family aspirations. This finding suggests that it is not only labor market outcomes that are beset with inequality, but that people differentially experience angst during career decision-making processes. Finally, even after a protracted process of deep reflection, many people nonetheless choose to double down and prioritize work, suggesting that people who fully embrace ideal worker norms tend to fear the loss of purpose it provides in their lives without a highly probable alternative. As such, organizations may paradoxically retain employees who are devoted to work, but personally discontented. The theory of family aspirations offers a novel call for scholars to re-think the concept of work-family conflict, offering contributions to research on work-family, labor market inequalities, and careers.
Retention and Its Discontents: How Ideal Workers with Family Aspirations Navigate Career Decision-Making.
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