60 percent of managers believe luck has played a part in career. Up to 40 percent don’t realise it

Around 60 percent of managers believe that an element of luck has played a significant part in shaping their careers, according to new research by emlyon business school. Respondents stated that this luck typically came through a chance event, which could be positive or negative, but either way had a huge impact on their career.

These are the findings of research by Nikos Bozionelos, Professor of HRM and Organisational Behaviour at emlyon business school, alongside colleagues Christine Naschberger and Celine Legrand, from Audencia Business School and Yehuda Baruch, from Southampton Business School.

The researchers wanted to understand the impact of chance events on people’s career paths, which in effect means whether luck had played a part in their careers. To do so, they surveyed over 650 managers from whom they collected detailed information about their demographics and career paths, chance events they’d experienced, specifics of these events, and how they impacted their careers.

After analysing the data they found that these chance events can span over a wide range of different circumstances. (1) from the personal: like chance encounters with people who effect your career, personal accidents or injuries, (2) to the organisational: such as being made redundant by a company or having to move location for a job role, or (3) even at the more macro level: such as the end of a political era or a global pandemic – all of which can have profound effects on a professional’s career progression.

The researchers also categorised events according to their impact on careers. These were: (1) a positive event that led to a positive career outcome, (2) a positive event that led to a negative career outcome, (3) a negative event which ended up having a positive effect on the career, and (4) a negative event that eventually had a negative effect on the career.

For positive events and their effects on careers, the results were not of much surprise: For around 95 percent of managers a positive event had an eventual positive impact from their careers. Though, there was a small number of cases where positive events eventually had a negative impact on the career.

However, when it came to negative impact, surprisingly almost 70 percent of managers who’d experienced a negative event stated that this had an overall positive eventual effect on their career. The rest, 30 percent that was a minority, said that the career impact was negative.

Another important finding was that the group who reported the greatest satisfaction with their careers and the greatest satisfaction with their present employment were those who fell into category (3): they had experienced a negative event that ended up having a positive effect on their career.

“Chance events happen pretty frequently, but it is not every day that a chance event has a huge impact on a professional’s career trajectory.” Says Professor Bozionelos. “However, it is incredibly likely that in someone’s professional lifetime, at least one event will hugely affect their career – therefore it is important to not plan your career path so rigidly, and build up a resilience to potential changes in your career trajectory. In doing so, these chance events will prove to be positive for your career path, not negative.”

Though – by definition – chance events cannot be predicted, the researchers say that the impact of them can in many cases be managed. It is important that those professionals who look to map out their career paths take into account the potential for hiccups along the way and should be determined, resilient and adaptable to these. So that they can eventually turn the career impact of an event that seems negative at the beginning to positive.

The researchers advise that managers and employers should look to support employees more with transition periods and chance events. This is not only because this is a humanitarian act, but also because by doing so, they foster employee retention, commitment and employability.