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professional emancipation

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Professional emancipation is an approach to work that focuses on the ability of individuals to guide and control their careers and work life. 

The goal of professional emancipation is to bring more autonomy, self-efficacy and creativity to people's working lives, increasing both job satisfaction and productivity. The central concept of this approach is thinking of oneself as a "business of one" rather than an employee and thinking of the employer as a client. This shift in perspective fosters a more egalitarian relationship and helps employees to approach their jobs more creatively and to align themselves more closely with business goals. 

Creativity on the job can take a number of different forms, including finding ways to integrate personally meaningful components into the job and employment environment, focusing more on the most satisfying aspects of the work and developing innovative approaches to improve the less satisfying elements. A more autonomous and motivated employee can also be a driver for necessary change within the corporate culture, improving the environment for other employees and simultaneously improving the business. 

Although professional emancipation doesn't necessarily mean transitioning to self-employment, it does mean that workers should become more comfortable with the idea of leaving jobs that aren't satisfying their needs. In the current employment market, people tend to change jobs at least a few times, whether by choice or through termination. As part of developing autonomy, employees should create an exit strategy outlining a course of action to guide them in the aftermath of either eventuality.

The idea behind professional emancipation developed as a reaction to what is sometimes called the golden handcuffs effect: the tendency for employees to stay in jobs with adequate pay and benefits, although they might be happier elsewhere.

This was last updated in September 2013

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