By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University
According to a survey of U.K. employees, the shift between loving and hating one’s job occurs around the age of 35. The U.K. Division of Robert Half, a human resources firm, conducted a survey of 2,000 British workers and found that:
- Older workers tend to feel more unhappy in their jobs than their younger colleagues.
- One in six British employees over the age of 35 said they were unhappy.
- Nearly a third of people over the age of 55 didn’t feel appreciated, and 16% said they did not have friends at work.
- One-fifth of the British workers felt employers did not value each age group equally.
What Were Some of the Workers’ Perceptions?
- As people go up the corporate ladder, salaries are higher and responsibilities are greater. There also tends to be a higher level of stress associated with positions as employees become more seasoned in their jobs. Some might fear that others are after their jobs and work with suspicion on a daily basis.
- Employers favor younger workers over the older workers. There are still situations when a hiring manager will perceive that younger workers will work longer hours because they might not have the same level of outside responsibilities as older workers. Also, younger workers may do the same job for a lower salary. In addition, a hiring manager may feel that a younger worker has more enthusiasm, shows initiative by seeking challenging tasks and is more “moldable.”
- It’s harder to balance work/life responsibilities as you get older and have more obligations (i.e. young children, children going off to college, eldercare issues).
However, what if these perceptions are simply a part of the way that life is supposed to be?
One of the classical theorists that I look to is Erik Erickson. Erickson is a well-known developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst famous for developing a psychosocial model called the Eight Stages of Life.
The eight stages cover the full range of life and span the entire life cycle of man. As a person goes through each stage, there is some type of conflict which needs to be resolved. If he or she resolves the conflict, he or she advances to the next stage. However, if the issues remain unresolved, that person is stuck in that stage.
When you review the age ranges, a 35-year-old can be viewed as going through the sixth stage, which is “Intimacy versus Isolation.” However, the age range for this phase is 18 to 40 years, so you could argue that both younger workers and 35-year-olds are in this phase.
During this phase, we begin to share ourselves with others and explore relationships outside the family unit, looking for longer commitments. Individuals in this phase attempt to establish themselves at their jobs by networking with peers and coworkers. They seek the answer to the question “Where do I belong in this maze?” That maze is the world of work.
If individuals are successful during this stage, they achieve a level of intimacy in and acceptance of their surroundings, especially their work environment. Success equates to acceptance, which leads to happiness.
However, if individuals feel isolated and unaccepted, you might have some depressed and lonely employees. An example would be the employees who felt unappreciated or passed over for the younger worker.
In this case, you could have unhappy 35-year-olds feeling that they are past their prime and have missed the boat. Adding more salt to their wounds would be if the management team blatantly caters to and molds younger workers.
Where Do We Find the Love in Our Jobs?
If we want to experience corporate organizational justice, employers should consider creating an environment in which employees are encouraged to develop in teams. By working in teams, employees have the opportunity to learn from one another as well as provide the social acceptance to successfully pass through this stage.
Let’s give our employees the love they need so they can successfully pass to the next stage while loving their jobs. We don’t want anyone to be “stuck” in life.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.