Companies change as the years pass by and will invariably go through their different opportunities and challenges at various benchmarks within their lifespan. We see this clearly in our field of Executive Search. Within the tenure of the organization, we watch the lifecycle of challenges rotate between the need for process improvement (the need to upgrade and enhance processes, systems and technology) and people dynamics (need for more people/need for different competencies) etc. When it’s the “people lifecycle”, that’s where we can help.
What we see missing in this whole movement on “Employee Engagement”, is the phenomenon of the Professional Midlife Crisis. The reason it gets missed is this group of employees, who are likely to be impacted by a Professional Midlife Crisis, are the company’s “solid citizens”. They are the tenured folks who have been a true company champion for many years. They are high performing and a constant presence despite whatever challenge is thrown their way.
Herein lies the rub. This group was once the group we called upon to bring newness and innovation to the team. They had constant change and learning in their career and that created energy and passion for what they do. Fast forward, this employee is now 20-25 years into their career. Many are bored by the sameness of what once created a lot of newness because they know the drill so well. Or worse, what once was a really fun job of growing the company, adding new innovations, meeting new customers etc. has now become a daily grind of problem solving and drama. They feel so far away from what it was they loved about their job.
That is when they visit with us at ERG. It would be tough to even estimate the number of folks who secretly want to meet. Their story is always the same and is quite frankly, the beginning of my book. Here is Bill’s true story as an example:
“Bill sits across from me, like so many people before him have done. At six feet, four inches tall, he strikes a commanding presence. His resume demonstrates he’s a top performer in his profession. But today he seems small. He looks lost.
His story is a familiar one.
“Sharon,” he tells me, “I have worked for the same company for almost my entire career. I have stayed the course and worked my way up the ranks. I have made many sacrifices along the way for the benefit of my career—sometimes to the detriment of time with my family—to provide a nice lifestyle and opportunities for my kids. So here I am, in my peak working years, and I feel so guilty because I absolutely hate what I do. The bureaucracy within the company has gotten bad. They once cared about people; now all they care about are profits. I don’t think I can do this much longer. I have to force myself out of bed in the morning to go to work. All that early enthusiasm and passion is gone. Sharon, I’m 54 years old – do I really have to do this for another eleven years?”
Welcome to a Professional Midlife Crisis.
As employers we don’t always take the time to check in on this profile of employee. We assume they will always be there. But with all the changes happening in businesses today, coupled with a war for great talent, turning a blind eye on this group could be detrimental to the long-term health of your business.
Writing the book was certainly not because I needed more to do. I wrote the book to help both the employees, like Bill, who are struggling, and to help the employer understand what can be done to help this employee stay engaged and challenged through the next ten to fifteen years of their career.
The book is full of ideas, but my one suggestion for the employer thinking they could have this issue, is to analyze the gaps in your business. Better yet, have the person you are concerned about do this. Then put together a game plan to let them lead a project to eliminate the gaps. More often than not, it’s the mundane that creates this crisis – same problems, same day. Find a way to give them back the ability to impact the business like they did as they were climbing the ladder. We all want to get up excited about the day. It’s not that anyone is looking for a challenge free environment, however it must have elements of “why we got into this business to begin with” sprinkled in.
Employees who believe leadership is concerned about their whole person, not just as an employee, are more productive, bring great energy to the team and are more fulfilled. To win in the marketplace, you first have to win in the workplace.