Over the last 17 years I have spent thousands of days working on Leadership Development in business skills 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.  They do so honestly, because we build up a level of trust over the 2 or 3 days we normally spend together.

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.

The prospect of owning a home let alone investing seriously in a pension becomes more of a dream and less a reality with every month that passes.

It doesn’t help that meanwhile the outside world appears to have gone mad, and we seem genuinely to be under simultaneous threat of global conflict, local terrorism and political chaos.

Back to the workplace:  where are people hurting most?  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  Work/life balance is an outdated concept.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.  Career 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.  I feel so strongly about this that I’m writing a book about it.  “My Job Isn’t Working!” will be published next year.  It aims to pull together all my face to face research and then to share the top 10 ways people can boost what I call their “career mojo” using techniques I have refined over the years.  If you’d like to contribute your perspective (entirely confidentially, of course), please get in touch.

You might also want to learn more about my career coaching service to see how I can help you achieve your full potential.


Image source:  step4success