Most employees do their best work (and enjoy the greatest sense of satisfaction) when they’re striving toward a goal. There’s something innately gratifying about ticking boxes, climbing rungs on the career ladder and seeing legitimate progress.
But what happens when someone meets all the goals they had set for themselves? Or if they’re reevaluating their career path and contemplating all the what-ifs in their future? For many people, this can lead to a mid-career crisis.
Like a mid-life crisis, a mid-career crisis is characterized by apathy, dissatisfaction and even regret over the paths not taken. In many cases, this prompts employees to seek an exciting change — often in the form of a new job opportunity with a different company.
For employers, this can be difficult — after all, no one wants to lose high-performing, experienced talent. Luckily, as an HR professional, there are a few ways you can help guide employees through this phase, hopefully retaining them in the process:
Focus on Career Development
One of the primary reasons talented employees leave is because they feel they’ve reached a plateau. In some cases, they may feel like there are no opportunities left with their current employer — either because people in the more senior roles aren’t moving on and creating openings for them to fill, or because there is no discernable next step on their current path.
As an HR leader, it’s your job to prevent employees from feeling they’ve reached their summit with your company, and that the only way to advance is by moving on. Well-formed career development programs can help you proactively satiate the needs of these ambitious professionals. In many ways, giving employees time and space to build their skills and learn about other ways they can grow and provide value within an organization is just as critical as new-hire onboarding.
Offer Lateral Opportunities
Sometimes employees aren’t looking for upward mobility as much as they just want something different. Having new problems to solve and different challenges to overcome can make employees feel a renewed sense of meaning, and can even help them tap into areas they wish they’d explored more in their career. For example, a salesperson who is interested in a career in education may find fulfillment as a sales coach or trainer.
Alternately, if your organization has multiple locations, you may want to suggest relocation. Sometimes a change of scenery can provide the shake-up an employee needs to feel energized and renewed amidst a mid-career crisis.
Provide Ways for Employees to Achieve a Sense of Purpose
One way to help employees feel more engaged and fulfilled is by giving them an opportunity to do good — in fact, it’s what many people are already seeking anyway. Seventy-one percent of employees say it’s imperative or very important to work for a company that supports giving and volunteering, according to a survey by Charities.org.
Not only does giving back help employees feel a greater sense of purpose in their lives, but it can also make them feel more engaged in their work and can help foster better relationships with colleagues, too.
If you don’t already, consider creating opportunities for employees to volunteer by either giving them paid VTO (volunteer time off) so they can support causes independently or setting up group outings to do things like clean up local parks, feed the homeless or provide job skills training in underserved communities.
Start a Mentorship Program
Mid to late-career professionals have amassed plenty of knowledge, skills, and experience over the years, and failing to tap into these valuable resources is a huge missed opportunity for your organization. When employees have a chance to pass down their wisdom and expertise to less-seasoned employees, everyone benefits.
Create a structured program by selecting stand-out industry veterans within each department, and pair them with newcomers who have expressed interest in career development. Not only will this give more experienced professionals a new way to share their hard-earned know-how, but it will help younger professionals learn critical soft skills and tribal knowledge. Plus, the experts will appreciate the recognition after all the time and hard work they’ve invested in their respective careers.
Of course, it’s not always obvious when someone is going through a mid-career crisis — which is why communication is essential. Be sure to schedule routine check-ins and, if someone seems burnt out, disengaged and less passionate about their work, ask them why and how you can help turn things around.
Losing highly experienced professionals can be a tremendous blow to your organization, but you can help give these employees a few new reasons to stay. By offering career development, lateral roles, volunteering opportunities, and a mentorship program, you can help employees through their career crisis and retain your best talent.