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Gatekeepers influencing careers of Canadian public sector employees: views from managers and union employees

Sean Darling (University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada)
J. Barton Cunningham (School of Public Administration, University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada)

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 10 October 2022

Issue publication date: 28 November 2022

83

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to develop a better understanding of the types of career models that different managerial and union employees view influencing their career development.

Design/methodology/approach

In this study, the authors gathered interview data from 74 public sector employees in management and union positions illustrating examples of the career models they experienced.

Findings

The study explains how unique career models are often defined by gatekeepers who act in setting out the procedures, incentives, and norms for the careers of others. The results, based on interviews in a Canadian government organization, suggest that employees perceive that different gate keepers are central in shaping careers of management and union employees in a more traditional career hierarchy, even though other perspectives or orientations of career progression exist in encouraging people to take more responsibility for career development. Management participants were more likely to be guided by upper level managers who acted as gatekeepers within a ‘perception of organizational politics’ model where “the system has a procedural merit rather than real merit….and systemic biases are not even realized by the people doing the hiring.” Key gatekeepers for union employees were those in human resource departments and the union who defined the fairness of the procedures within a human capital model which generally managed career development as a reward for higher levels of experience, education, and training. The findings illustrate unique ways that each set of gatekeepers shape the way that selection and promotion processes are carried out.

Research limitations/implications

The authors are mindful that our results are, at best, exploratory. The qualitative interviews were from a sample of 74 government workers in the Canadian public service and should be verified with further research. Although the authors felt that interviews illustrated saturation and might only be a reliable reflection of a specific sample, other research should examine these findings in other contexts. Further examination of these findings might help us understand the challenges of developing systems and procedures which illustrate a distributive rather than merely a procedural fairness.

Practical implications

The process of socialization for a career in management and union positions is demonstrated by the boundaries through which a person moves from being an outsider to an insider to the organization. Unique career models are often defined by gatekeepers who act in setting out the procedures, incentives, and norms for the careers of others. The research and practical implications point to: (i) designing supplemental behavioral interview questions and tools in selection and promotion as a way to respond to systemic biases, (ii) building awareness of how to respond to biases of the powerful role of referrals and networks in shaping careers of managerial employees, and (iii) taking steps to develop a climate which might be supportive of merit processes.

Social implications

The process of socialization for a career in management and union positions is demonstrated by the boundaries through which a person moves from being an outsider to an insider to the organization. Unique career models are often defined by gatekeepers who act in setting out the procedures, incentives, and norms for the careers of others.

Originality/value

The study suggests that unique career models are often defined by gatekeepers who act in setting out the procedures, incentives, and norms for the careers of others.

Keywords

Citation

Darling, S. and Cunningham, J.B. (2022), "Gatekeepers influencing careers of Canadian public sector employees: views from managers and union employees", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 41 No. 9/10, pp. 469-495. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMD-11-2021-0298

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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