There has been talk aplenty in research and popular circles about the mid-life crisis, but not as much about a related phenomenon that plays itself out in the workplace – the mid-career crisis. However, it’s an idea whose time has come. While the mid-life crisis was a popular term during the economic boom of the 80s, 90s and the noughts, the market volatility we have seen since 2008, the changing definition of work-life balance, and the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic have blurred the boundaries between work and personal goals and motivation, and made the “mid-career crisis” the buzzword of this decade.

The satisfaction curve

There has been enough research to indicate that happiness among human beings takes the form of a gently curving U: life satisfaction is highest at youth, and tends to dip in the 40s before gently climbing back up in the 50s. Job satisfaction also seems to follow this pattern. In fact, philosopher Kieran Setiya points out that the term midlife crisis was originally coined not to describe middle-aged patients suddenly engaging in poorly-judged behavior, but to the dramatic shifts in the creative lives of artists who felt unfulfilled by their existing oeuvre.

The impact of dissatisfaction

For some, their sense of professional dissatisfaction may seem dramatic, for others it may be much more subtle. But it’s important for organizations to take note of this trend for it affects the workplace. According to Kelly Waffle, MD of the Hinge Research Institute, the mid-career crisis can have a tremendous impact on an organization since it is the mid-career employee segment, rather than the entry- or junior-level employee segment, which is the largest group leaving jobs today. In fact, about 30% of those surveyed in this segment were willing to leave their current jobs despite not having an offer in hand.

At the level of the organization, this could mean:

  • Reliable and highly-trained employees leave suddenly, upsetting projects and the overall organization’s success.
  • Even worse, they could inspire or get other employees to think of quitting.
  • Finding the right people to fill these roles could take significant time, resources, and energy.

As Josh Bersin, an industry analyst believes, the cost of losing an employee could go from a few thousand dollars to 2x the employee’s salary!

Sounds like a wake-up call for the HR and leadership teams? While the trend sounds alarming, the situation can be addressed through simple and well-thought out, humane interventions. We’ll discuss them in our next post. Stay tuned.

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