The Stresses Of Career Mobility

Larry Price
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Wednesday - May 19, 2010
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You can just feel the stress in the voices and facial expressions of some candidates running for public office. It’s not easy trying to convince the public that they should give you their vote. It’s also time-consuming and costly to pursue elective office. And it is probably even more stressful to seek a higher political office.

The stress here is called “promotion stress.” It is the experience of feeling anxiety or tension in one’s career in terms of the level one has reached in the system. Inadequate mobility in leadership-oriented careers is a chronic stressor, and if not managed can produce long-term and continuing negative effects on individuals and the organization for which they work. The stress experienced over time can be traced to inadequate development.

Promotion stress experienced by candidates running for higher office has not received much attention in the media. This may be because it doesn’t seem like an area for anyone of importance to focus their attention. While most employees may think about focusing on moving up in the organization, they may be just dreaming of more responsibility and additional recognition. But there is a lot of stress associated with advancing one’s career in a political party. Even the president of the United States is sending e-mails to voters.


It may be one of the best reasons to have term limits for elected officials. Once they reach their term limit, they must run for a higher office or drop out of the picture. Most sensible candidates for higher office realize this, and more often than not take on the challenge to run for a higher office. As in the jungle, the weak ones are eliminated and fall out of the picture. The strong move on. It all runs in cycles, with the initial stress of being elected to represent a district or a special-interest group.

It is after this initial stress has worn off that the stress of attempting to move up the succession ladder kicks in. Vying for a promotion is stressful.

In our political environment, some have been in office for a long time, and there is the stress of trying for a higher office against those who are much younger and fresh out of college. The opposite is also true for younger candidates running against more-seasoned public servants.

No one talks about promotion stress and career stages as viewed from internal and external perspectives, but it is there. In the Hawaii 1st Congressional District campaign, two of the candidates, Colleen Hanabusa and Charles Djou, will accept the challenge with smiles on their face simply because they have jobs to return to regardless of the outcome of the special election. If Ed Case loses, he’ll be left alone and licking his wounds.

In a broad sense, any aspect of career mobility could be a stressor, whether it is from too many movements in an organization or too few. For most elected politicians, the most stress comes from a lack of promotion and mobility. Listen to their political ads and you can detect it. In some cases, it comes from their handlers, but promotion stress has been found to be higher in persons who see themselves as plateauing, and is associated with lower satisfaction and commitment among their supporters.


Anyone thinking about seeking elective office should be aware that promotion stress can appear quickly when a person first enters the political arena with hopes of moving upward. They may immediately see the large amount of competition and the few upper-level positions and be intimidated and discouraged, and those feelings can lead to stress. It is common in mid-career-level individuals who seem to be stuck in their current position and are not able to advance.

The promotion stress may be inevitable, but at least some will find ways to cope with it and hopefully beat it. You’ll be able to tell who they are on election night; they are the ones who have tears in their eyes and can’t stop smiling.

Give them a hand; they’ve experienced a lot of stress.

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