Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones. Perhaps you have reached your 40s, 50s, or 60s blissfully happy in your job. You are engaged, fulfilled, and challenged. Your work draws on your natural talents and passions. If so, feel free to skip this article.
The rest of us, however, may be experiencing, if not a mid-career crisis, at least mid-career ennui. According to Gallup pollsters, only one-third of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are engaged by their work. Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist for workplace management and well-being, says about half of Boomer and Gen X employees fall in a second category that Gallup characterizes as “not engaged.” As Harter puts it, “They show up; they get their paycheck and do the minimum required.” And one out of five belongs in the category Gallup calls “actively disengaged,” which Harter describes as “a pretty desperate state.” This situation exacts a toll on more than just productivity: Gallup has found that, compared with engaged employees, actively disengaged workers of all ages are far likelier to report stress and physical pain. They have higher cortisol levels and blood pressure, and they are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or to call in sick.
Employees of all generations are unhappy at work, but those in midlife are slightly unhappier, and for different reasons. Harter says they are particularly likely to complain of feeling “locked into” their careers—stuck in neutral as their junior colleagues zip along. Although the mid-career slump cuts across industries and income levels, he notes that college-educated employees report greater unhappiness than do those who stopped at high school. He believes that highly educated people may have higher expectations, and may therefore find career disappointments more bitter.