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What does being institutionalized mean and how could it impact your career?


May. 25, 2021, at 06:59 AM


According to the dictionary definition - ‘if someone becomes institutionalised, they gradually become less able to think and act independently, because of having lived fit a long time under the rules of an institution.’
 
The term ‘institutionalized’ has its origins in the world of psychiatric hospitals and prisons, but also made its way into the executive recruitment market many years ago.
 
It is generally used to refer to someone that has a lengthy tenure with the same employer (usually 10+ years), but can also imply that the individual may be so ingrained in the culture, politics and businesses processes of that company that the assumption is they would find it hard to successfully transfer their skills to another environment. 
 
Being labelled as institutionalised therefore is not often(rightly or wrongly) considered a good thing for your career or personal brand - unless of course you are happy being a one firm employee.
 
Does it mean you will always be overlooked? Not necessarily, but it depends somewhat on how narrow the talent pool is and (at the senior level) how well you show up and reference in the market.
 
So now you know what it means to be described as institutionalised - 
How do you go about fixing it? (Assuming it applies to you). The obvious thing to do is move on every 5 - 7 years or less, which when you think about it is what most people do anyway - whether that’s on a voluntary or involuntary basis.
 
The concept of a career for life is no longer relevant in today’s world, even if some of us (including me) find it admirable, but there are still many examples of people hanging in there for year after year.
 
For those that fall into this category, and who’re not inclined to see things out to retirement, then the best way of staying relevant and avoiding being tagged as ‘institutionalised’ is by moving roles and/or taking on new responsibilities every few years. If you can move divisions or locations that’s even better as there is less chance of going stale and you can still point to your ability to ‘reinvent’ yourself and transition to new environments and deal with change. 
 
Seeking secondment opportunities and/or sitting on external committees or Boards is also a helpful way of demonstrating you have a more rounded perspective on your discipline and area of the market.
 
My final tip is to ensure you commit to networking, whether that’s over a coffee, on LinkedIn or via conferences and speaking engagements. This will not only keep your brand and name top of peoples minds but could also come in handy if and when your employer calls time on your career with them before you do!
 

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