In our twenties, we jump into the workplace with the ambition to realize our career aspirations and an excitement for professional work environments. When we think of our lives twenty years down the road, we often think of ourselves as having achieved our goals and despite a few grey hairs and wrinkles, we imagine ourselves happy.
Why is this so often not the case?
A recent study found that one in six workers between the ages 35 and 55 are unhappy, more than double the number for those under 35. While the number of “happy” workers between the ages of 18 and 34 (a whopping 92%) is something to celebrate, the high rate of discontent amongst older workers is scary.
For those outside of this bracket, aged 55 and above, things are not much better statistically. Nearly a third of people over 55 don’t feel appreciated, while 16% say they don’t have friends at work.
What is happening in the lives of workers that by age 35, satisfaction at work takes such a significant dive? There are a few answers to this.
First, an awareness of how far one has or has not come. If the goals we set for ourselves have not come to fruition, the disappointment of this combined with the knowledge that the clock is ticking leaves many feeling unfulfilled. Corinne Mills, a joint managing director of Personal Career Management, puts it this way, “A feeling [we have] around that age, [where we think] ‘shouldn’t I have made it? Shouldn’t things be more sorted by now? Is this it?”
Another change in the life of a 35-year-old to that of a 20-something-year-old is that our priorities can dramatically change. This is the time when many have started a family or, at least, begun seriously thinking about it. Ten years earlier, the grind of working long days was less physically draining and felt consistent with career priorities, but this lifestyle isn’t as alluring to many workers after the age of 35.
“There comes a time when either you haven’t achieved success, work has burned you out, or life experience tells you family is more important…You ask yourself: ‘What am I doing this for?’”
– Cary Cooper, a workplace researcher at Manchester Business School.
Avoid the pitfall
Midlife dissatisfaction can also be the by-product of stress. By 35, many people have achieved higher positions of seniority and feel heavier stress-loads from the increased responsibility and pressure. Compound this with the impression of not being appreciated, and one can understand why an employee would be unhappy.
As an employer, the awareness of how your employees are feeling should be used as an opportunity for you to change the statistics within your company. By 2024, one in four people in the labor market will be 55 or older, meaning a significant portion of your workforce are at risk of being unhappy and unengaged.
The best solution is prevention, and there are many ways for you to easily ensure your staff are happy, no matter their age.
Simply put, show your employees some love.
This can be as simple as in-person recognition, granting more autonomy to demonstrate your trust, or investing in growing your employee’s skills. The best part about this is that you don’t have to guess at what they would appreciate: Ask them! The question itself already serves as recognition that they are appreciated.
Beyond recognition, it’s important to simply be aware that older employees have a different lifestyle than younger staff. Check in with them to see how their work-life balance is going and create a channel of communication where employees will feel comfortable expressing feeling overworked or overlooked. These are confident employees who have been in the workforce for years and know what they are good at: Make them aware that they are assets to your business and they will bring everything they have to the table, happily.