Published: Aug 29, 2017
Are you over the age of 35 and hate your job? If so, you're not alone. On the other hand, if you're under the age of 35 and hate your job, you're kind of an outlier.
Older workers tend to be more unhappy in their jobs than their younger colleagues, according to a survey of more than 2,000 U.K. employees by human resource firm Robert Half U.K. One in six British workers over age 35 said they were unhappy—more than double the number for those under 35. Nearly a third of people over 55 said they didn’t feel appreciated, while 16 percent said they didn’t have friends at work.
There’s the stress of being in a high-ranking position—or the disappointment of not making it far enough up the career ladder. True, salaries are higher, but life starts to get more expensive. “Work-life balance” starts to mean taking care of children, rather than just personal stress management.
“There comes a time when either you haven’t achieved success, work has burned you out, or lived experience tells you family is more important,” said Cary Cooper, a workplace researcher at Manchester Business School. “You ask yourself: ‘What am I doing this for?’”
Here's a suggestion for those under 35 who still don't hate their jobs (and for those who do): Never stop asking yourself that question, "What am I doing this for?" And I don't mean once in a while but as often as you can. Maybe every day. Maybe every hour. It could help you focus on finding out what you truly like to do, maybe even love to do, and might help you keep making changes in your life and career to ensure that you keep doing those things you like or love. Or getting closer to doing those things.
My sense is it isn't children or spouses that create added stress and thus make us married-with-children-over-35-year-olds hate our jobs but us that makes us hate our jobs. Maybe the haters among us haven't been asking themselves this question all along. Or else they've been asking but haven't been honest with themselves.
Here's another suggestion: When trying to answer the question about what you're doing this for, pay a lot of attention to the process of doing as opposed to the outcomes. My guess is that a lot of older haters have paid attention to the outcome: I'm doing this in order to pay for/afford X, Y, and Z. I'm doing this so I can then, outside of work, do A, B, and C. Which won't necessarily help you find out what you like or love doing.
However, if you focus on the action, you'll likely find out you're doing something because I really like to do D, E, and F, and that brings me satisfaction and pleasure and is challenging and fulfilling. In other words, make your answer about the work itself, not the accolades or the paycheck or whatever comes after the work. Not that those things don't matter, but if you find something you enjoy doing, chances are you'll do it well, do it with intent and thoroughly, and then all that other stuff will come.
Going back to the study, yes, "it's also possible that younger people have lower expectations, higher hopes, and they’re not yet burned out." But it's also possible that, in general, the younger generation today is more focused on the work itself, not the outcome. Maybe this is why there are so many startups and entrepreneurs and contract employees and job hoppers.
And if all this doesn't sound like sound advice to you, then why not try making a friend or two at work. Or try to squeeze in something unrelated to work at work.
There’s a way to combat the ennui, Cooper said, but it takes effort. Making work buddies can improve the situation, even if it can be hard to find time for happy-hour drinks. Refocus on a personal project at work and make that your passion, he said.
Lastly, it's important to keep in mind, for those under and over 35, that there's no rush to find work you love or your one true calling.
This past weekend, I was talking with a friend who just turned 70. She retired a few years ago, after working in advertising for over 30 years (she ran her own company for a lot of those years). She now owns, by my last count, three homes, and has traveled extensively throughout every continent on the planet. And for most of her working career, she was a single mother. In any case, I was asking her about her career, and she told me she didn't discover what she was meant to do and didn't start making "real money" until she turned 40.
"It's not a race," she said, then added: "I made a lot of mistakes. I always did things without worrying too much. Some people overthink things and never do anything. I took chances without worrying about all the details, all the things that might prevent things from working out. I don't know if that's the right thing for everyone, but it worked out for me."
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