While the economics of happiness is a frequent topic at cocktail conversations (Why are some rich countries deeply unhappy? Do entrepreneurs really feel more fulfilled than employees?), there is one subtheme we need to talk more about at work: does happiness really follow a U-curve that dips the most at middle age? And what does that mean for maturing employees?

While recent research seems to suggest that this is not actually the case, the fact remains that the 40s and 50s are often associated with personal and professional upheavals such as relationship changes, unemployment, deteriorating physical health, unsavory brushes with ageism, and the increasing burden of care.

These factors could be informing career satisfaction more than we realize, and at a wider scale too. For instance, research in the UK revealed that 22% of employees over 55 years have experienced age-related discrimination at work and almost 40% of them expect to work beyond pension age due to evolving economic conditions. Philosophy professor Kieran Setiya also identifies some of the career circumstances that come with age (and the accompanying premium on expertise and focus) as a factor adding to this malaise, specifically,“the narrowing of options, the inevitability of regret, and the tyranny of projects successively completed and replaced.”

Enter the mid-career review, and its potential to support mature career trajectories

Steve Butler, CEO of Punter Southall Aspire, a pension, benefits, and employee financial planning consultancy, is a vociferous advocate of the mid-career review. He sees it as a departure from the more common performance review, which considers an individual’s performance in order to calibrate salary, benefits, and career progression. The mid-career review is focused on mid-and-long term plans in view of the employee’s holistic situation, which includes financial situation, career and life aspirations, health and wellbeing, and interpersonal relationships.

A mid-career check-in can help teams retain mature employees and their skill sets, experience, and mentorship, more effectively, by addressing what motivates them and also what makes them anxious.

It also helps team members looking for career transitions with opportunities that are in tune with their needs. For some, this may mean working fewer hours to support a family member or work on their own health concerns, for others, it may mean shifting to a new role or undergoing training or education to be better aligned with their evolving career aspirations.

Aviva’s learnings from building a successful mid-career review policy

With employees over the age of 45 comprising one-third of its UK operations (and steadily growing in share of the workforce), Aviva strove to better address this cohort’s concerns around career longevity, making meaningful and well-recognized contributions to work, and savvy retirement planning.

Their first workshop to address these concerns was a Work, Wellness, and Wealth review and helped participants from this cohort examine their future plans and their financial feasibility. It was also a learning opportunity for Aviva.

First of all, Aviva realized that around 33% of their workers felt that age was a barrier to getting career opportunities. They sought to address that by offering career development opportunities, including apprenticeship courses.

They also offered more support for care givers so that this cohort would not be compelled to leave their jobs due to increased caregiving responsibilities.

Aviva also realized that responding to the needs of these workers would give it an edge in attracting and retaining top talent of any age cohort, paving the way for a regular program for such employees, called the Midlife Mot. This, in turn, evolved into a value-addition opportunity that Aviva extended to its clients, in the form of a check-in program for UK residents over the age of 45.

Formulating a mid-career check-in

If you are thinking of implementing a mid-career check-in for your team or wondering how to do a self check-in, carefully consider these points.

  • Discuss developing new career trajectories for seasoned professionals.
  • Address any career misalignments with empathy and brainstorm feasible pivots.
  • Share access to financial planning support to plan wisely for retirement or working into the later years of life.
  • Check with your Talent & Culture partners to see how health or care-giving related support may be tailored to a mid-career employee’s unique needs.
  • Offer opportunities for self-actualization at work to ensure a sense of fulfillment as careers mature.

Such reviews need not be limited to those navigating the mid-point or flag-end of their career. Career check-ins at critical junctures of a work trajectory can uncover hidden concerns and untapped potential in equal measure, so use them with a generous spirit.

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