The executive midlife crisis
I recently had a conversation with a Sr Dir of HR at Medtronic. She has a lot of admiration for her employer. I do too. So, when she told me that some of the internal coaching she does is with executives who are questioning what they are doing with their careers, it gave me pause.
Consider this a long-haul symptom of the pandemic. The time away from the office and a break in a years-long routine had led to employees breaking free from habit and into self-reflection. The result has been a tsunami of executive midlife crises.
I wrote about the Great Resignation just last month. Part of it is a function of demographics. As Boomers reached an age where retirement became an attractive option, they were bound to leave the job market. Part of it is a result of healthy 401-Ks, as stocks have rocketed in the past year.
But there are other things going on. Employees between 30 and 45 years old have seen a 20% increase in resignations year on year. Women in this age range are more likely to be leaving. Their work experiences tend to be less satisfying than men’s. They are often in the front-line jobs of healthcare and education that saw stress accelerate the most during COVID. And they felt the joys and obligations of family life most acutely, with their children at home.
Now, add factors like reaching the midpoint of your working career, working from the echo chamber of a home office, an organizational pyramid that narrows career options with your current employer and a glimpse of your own mortality, as the COVID death toll approaches 800K Americans. You have the building blocks for a midlife crisis. And it is touching a large number of corporate executives.
Somehow, this feels different from what we traditionally think of as a midlife crisis. There is far less of the typical selfishness, maybe because selfish outlets were closed down for so long. You can’t get a facelift if clinics are not accepting elective surgery. Having an affair is far less exciting via Zoom. Instead, we are reacting to racial tensions, income inequality, polarizing politics and threats to our way of life from human-induced acts of God. Freud is taking a back seat to Frankl.
In the New Yorker, Lizzie Widdicombe interviewed some marketing executives: “We’re reconsidering who we are, what we care about, what we want to do with our time. I’m sitting here writing pitches for big-box retailers on how they can sell more products that people don’t need.”
Having identified this crisis, what can we do about it? I’m going to stop short of suggesting a radical change, whether it is in your career or your whole life. There are four things you can do that can make a difference in how you feel, how you feel about yourself, your work and your relationships. They may shed light on a way out of your crisis, or they might show just how needed a fundamental change is.
When it comes to addressing a career crisis, there is no such thing as benign neglect. Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away. Tackle it head-on. Provide time for reflection. Recognize that changes, though not inevitable, might be for the best.
Executive Springboard President Steve Moss shares learning from years as an executive and a mentor.