George is in his early 40s, is married and has been a supervisor with your firm for the past 16 years. He ought to be very content. After all, he is secure in his job, has a nice home and family and is earning a good salary. Instead, George is angry, resentful and hard to get along with for both his superiors and his subordinates. In addition to being insubordinate and rude he often appears deeply depressed.
Why? What’s the matter with George? George, like many other people his age, is having a mid life crisis.
You may have come across someone like George, or you may have to work with him or, worse luck, under him. We are seeing more and more Georges (or Susan’s, since this also strikes women) in the workplace as our labour force ages and certain changes in our society affect us. Regardless of whether you are the person going through a mid life crisis, or whether you are working with someone like this, it is essential that you understand what is happening and how you can cope with the situation and survive it yourself.
It seems that most men and women at middle age experience some form of mid life crisis. For most, it is not a serious or even very disturbing event. For others, it may result in severe problems, significant disruptions, interpersonal difficulties, lifestyle disruptions and severe depression leading to suicide. One measure of the size of the problem is the number of career changes that both men and women are making in their middle years.
At present, we expect that nearly 40 percent of men and a slightly lower percentage of career women will make mid career changes if they are over the age of forty.
Why do people have mid life or mid career crises? What brings it on and why are these people upset?
Psychologists who have studied this age group have found that there are a number of factors that can make one’s middle years a time of considerable turmoil. In the first place, one is confronted with the fact that one is getting older. In our present youth oriented society, this is often seen as the beginning of the end and something that must be avoided at all costs.
After coming to grips with one’s age, many men and women begin to take stock of where they are in their lives and to compare that with where they hoped to be. They may have their sights set on a particular job, but now they have to face the fact that this isn’t likely to happen. Even if they are content with their positions, they may begin to question what lies ahead and whether all this hard work is worth it. Is it enjoyable? Is this all there is to life?
Once people begin to ask these kinds of questions, they may have to live with some unpleasant answers. It’s a time to adjust one’s idealistic hopes to the realistic possibilities that are left.
People who are married, are probably experiencing the time when their children are old enough to be leaving home, starting careers, having families of their own or all of these things together. It may be that the children are doing very well and are likely to be even more successful than their parents. While this is wonderful, it can make parents feel proud and envious at the same time.
Another factor that affects people at this time is the aging of one’s own parents. By middle age, your parents are probably approaching old age. They may need some care and assistance from you if they are in poor health and you may find the roles reversing in that you are now taking on the duties of being a “parent” to your parents.
At middle age, one also begins to think ahead regarding one’s financial affairs. You may be thinking that it is high time you started to enjoy the fruits of your labours. You may not have a great many earning years left. Isn’t it time you bought yourself that luxury car and dumped the old heap? Maybe you should buy that new house or cottage or living room suite etc. while you have the money and the time to enjoy your possessions. All of this contributes to making you feel that you must make some changes while you can.
Retirement itself can be a frightening thought for some men and women. Will you have enough money to allow you to maintain your present lifestyle? Where will you live? What will you do with your time? Too many people have ignored retirement planning expecting that the company, the government or” somebody” will take care of them. But as retirement approaches and people notice what has happened to those who retired a few years ago with no planning, reality sets in and worries begin to surface.
What can you do to cope with the problems or to help someone who is going through this? The first thing is to be aware of what is happening and to realize that the process and the problems are not unusual. The next is to help the person take some responsibility for dealing with the situation. You may find it useful to read about the topic or to talk to someone who has helped others or you may wish to seek the advice and assistance of experienced counsellors. Many firms are finding it worthwhile to establish an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which provides counselling services to those in difficulty.
Most firms have realized that there is no such thing as a personal problem that doesn’t spill over into the workplace. The worker who, because of a mid life crisis, is having a drinking, personality or marital problem has a significant and negative impact on his other firm. EAPs can be very helpful and a welcome asset for employees and employers alike.
Even if your firm isn’t large enough to support a full-blown EAP, you should make yourself aware of the various counselling service, crisis clinics, distress centres or help lines in your locale. A problem employee needs help and they may not know where to turn for it. You or your personnel manager can do everyone great service by pointing them in the right direction.
On a more positive note, you should realize that not everyone has a mid life or mid-career crisis and that even when they do occur, they do not always lead to disasters.
Thousands of people have found that a hard look at where they are and where they are headed has resulted in decisions to try something new, the acceptance of new challenges and the development of an entirely new and exciting outlook on life. Remember that the oriental symbol for crisis consists of two characters – danger and opportunity. A midlife crisis is a time of danger for some, but it can also be a time for opportunity.
Handled properly, the crisis can result in new opportunities, a rejuvenation of your employee, greater job satisfaction, more cordial working relations and a happy efficient worker.