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Age, proactivity and career development

Marc van Veldhoven (Department of Human Resource Studies, Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands)
Luc Dorenbosch (Department of Human Resource Studies, Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 28 March 2008




The purpose of this study is to shed more light on the role of employee proactivity (self‐starting, action‐orientated behaviours aimed at greater organisational effectiveness) in relation to aging and career development. It aims to do this in two ways. First, by investigating how age and HR practices for development initiated by the organisation influence proactivity. Here, proactivity it seeks to study as a career‐relevant outcome. Second, by examining how age, proactivity and HR practices for development influence employee experiences of career opportunities. Here, it aims to use proactivity as career‐relevant predictor.


A total of 619 employees from 47 departments completed a questionnaire, including two scales on proactivity (on‐the‐job and developmental proactivity) as well as a scale on career opportunities. HR and line managers in these departments were interviewed about HR practices directed at career development of the employees. The data combine information from two levels (employee, department) as well as three different sources (employee, line manager, HR manager), and are analysed using multi‐level analysis.


First, the paper presents the results on proactivity as an outcome: age is positively related to proactivity on‐the‐job but has no association with proactivity towards development. HR practices targeted at career development are positively associated with both types of proactivity. Second, the results on proactivity as a predictor show that career opportunities have a negative association with age, a positive association with proactivity, and a positive association with career development‐orientated HR practices. An additional negative effect on career opportunities is found for the cross‐level interaction between HR practices and age.


This study is original as it combines individual, psychological, and HR perspectives in researching age‐related career issues. It contributes to the literature by showing that age has no negative, but rather a positive impact on proactivity. Proactivity furthermore is sensitive to HR practices for development, implying that organisations can influence the proactivity of their employees. For older employees the study implies that, although organisations tend to offer them fewer HR practices for development, they can offset this disadvantage to some extent by increased proactivity, and thus retain career opportunities.



van Veldhoven, M. and Dorenbosch, L. (2008), "Age, proactivity and career development", Career Development International, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 112-131.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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