30 -50 and employed? How much are you hurting?

I’m planning to write a business book this year . I’ve been mulling on it for far too long, and every year that goes by it seems to me that the case for the book gets more compelling. In this article I’d like to do a wee bit of research in an attempt to validate the book’s proposition.

Over nearly 20 years I have spent thousands of days in training rooms around the world with people who are what I shall call loosely mid-career.  They share with me and each other how they feel about their job, their career, their frustrations and challenges, and how they see the future.

squeezedIt’s a bit of a bleak picture, to be honest.  They are hurting, and in many cases either don’t know what to do about it, or don’t feel able to make a change. You might say they feel stuck.

Even more depressingly, many of them have lost sight of the fact that they are hurting.  They have fallen asleep at the wheel, and don’t recognise it.  They are plodding down a path waiting for something to happen.  Meanwhile their families are growing up, their skills become less useful and they become less personally marketable.  The clock is ticking.

Where are they hurting?  It’s a pretty long list, but let me try and summarise.  This is not going to make for easy reading I suspect.

  1.  Low levels of trust, borne out of weak relationships, borne out of lack of time and budget to build those relationships.  Where people don’t trust each other they can’t collaborate, and if they can’t collaborate they can’t survive in a complex matrix based working environment.  Work/life balance is an outdated concept.  There is now a grim acceptance that there is never going to be a balance, and instead organisations talk about “Work/life integration.”  Your work is going to intrude on your personal life, and you need to have the ability to deal with that without moaning.

2.  Insecurity and fear are endemic.  The fears are numerous, but the main one is fear of becoming irrelevant and falling behind technically.  As the millennials start to overtake them, deploying new skills and attitudes which are seen as more current, the 30-somethings fear not being seen as adding enough value.  If cuts are going to be made, they could be next.

3.  The “more with less” mantra has ground away for too many years, so that there is no meat left on the bone.  Starved of resources, and yet still being asked to increase productivity, the mid-career manager has nowhere left to turn.  The pressure continues to bear down from above, whilst the people in their teams are looking to them for more support.  This truly is the “squeezed middle”, and it is the hardest job in the world.

4.  Outdated, cumbersome and irrelevant processes and procedures are overwhelming them.  On average these people only spend 2 days per week doing value add activity.  The rest is sucked away by time wasting meetings, an incessant barrage of email and other noise and trying to pick their way through the almost impenetrable fog of “tools” so they can get stuff done.  A few years ago they had the energy to try and fix all this.  Having been hit on the head a few times and told to get back in their box, it’s easier to shut up and get on with it.  If you stick your head out you will be seen as being difficult and this will be held against you.

5.  They have been exposed to a directive style of management for so long that deep down many of these talented individuals have turned into Children.  In essence they are waiting to be told what to do next, and have given up being proactive.  Coaching is rare, and where it does take place the preferred style is Directing, so that it is more akin to on the job training – a very different dynamic which fails to develop them the way it could.

The result is an exhausted, frustrated and under-achieving middle layer.  The annual Gallup Employee Engagement survey continues to report 70% or so of employees not actively engaged in the business they work in.  They are capable of so much more.

How much of this list can you relate to?  Have I somehow over 20 years just got unlucky with the people I have been working with?  Have I picked up a severely distorted impression of how things are out there these days?

If so please do challenge me.  I know there are plenty of examples of where my list does not apply, but I am confident that there is a pattern here, and am doing my best to call it objectively.

What’s your experience?  Please do comment.

Image source:  step4success

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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8 Responses to 30 -50 and employed? How much are you hurting?

  1. Nina C. Gullerud says:

    Hi Michael, I had the pleasure of attending one of your excellent trainings back in my corporate days, and I can only add my support for your book project 100%! I have finally taken the leap and started my own business after 20 years of corporate life, and I would love to lend a hand with some qualitative examples for your research, if that would be of help. Will send you an e-mail.


    • Thank you so much Nina. It’s great to hear from you again after what I reckon to be 13 years. Crowne Plaza, Heathrow. You made an impact on me then, and I can easily recall it. I would love to talk to you further on this, so will be in touch. Your experience is so relevant to the theme of my book, so I would love to talk to you further on this.


  2. Tricia Sage says:

    Great stuff Mike – I was hurting and was offered a golden opportunity to be off and out – had to drive my own course after 20 years with huge, dearly loved company. I looked carefully where I could be my true self again, at a later age it doesn’t always have to be the money that attracts you if you are relatively financially secure – take the leap of faith and some out there can still appreciate your drive, enthusiasm and knowledge. I know I have found it …… for now.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. NAOMI Chavez Peters says:

    Michael, I would be happy to talk to you live on this. Ageism is real in Tech, make no mistake. I’m not sure it’s this way in other industries, as I’m just starting to branch out in my consulting to different industries (education / construction / nonprofits) as well as Tech. As I am well into my 50’s now, I see it, and I first-hand lived it in my former firm. I actually had a friend (50-something) quit one of my former companies recently who had had enough grief. When the head of HR heard, she literally said, “so what – out with the old…”

    I am sure a book like this would make folks like us feel better, but I’m not at all convinced companies care one bit about this conversation.


  4. Sarah Stocks says:

    Hi Michael – hurrah a book for us – not just about the Millennials! I work in L&D and finding my role becoming irrelevant due to the increase in online learning seen as a quick fix and less expensive – I feel my current skill set working with people, is not considered relevant in today’s workplace. It is all about working with developing online learning and application of IT (if I wanted to work in IT I would have!). I suddenly feel my age and it is frightening! I relate to all of the above and I am sure I am not alone! Happy to discuss in more detail and provide some qualitative feedback for your research.


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