Managing Middlescence

Welcome to middlescence. Like adolescence, it can be a time of frustration, confusion, and alienation. But it can also be a time of self-discovery, new direction, and fresh beginnings

The Idea in Brief

Burned out. Bottlenecked. Bored. That's the current lot of many midcareer employees—those 35 to 54 years of age. Thirty percent of these middlescents work 50+ hours per week, while only 33% feel energized by their jobs. And many lament that their workplace offers few opportunities to try new things.

If your company's like most, midcareer managers and employees make up half your workforce. Neglect their discontent, and you risk losing valued performers who seek exciting work elsewhere. This is a dangerous development—considering the brain drain that'll soon hit when the vanguard of baby boomers retires. Disaffected middlescents who stay because they need the money take an even worse toll: Their lack of energy, innovation, and focus erodes your firm's productivity.

How to avoid these losses? Tap into your middlescents' hunger for renewal by helping them launch into new, more productive, more meaningful roles and careers. Fresh assignments enable middlescents to acquire new skills. Job changes help them develop new specialties. And training expands their business knowledge and stokes their desire to learn more.

You're probably already using such simple and inexpensive career revitalization techniques on your stars. Extend them to all your midcareer employees: They'll reward you with renewed commitment and productivity, as well as reduced replacement costs—immediately.

The Idea in Practice

Use these strategies to revitalize middlescents' careers:

Fresh Assignments

Offer new assignments in different locations or parts of your organization to leverage middlescents' existing skills and contacts while helping them acquire new ones.

General Electric taps experienced managers to integrate new acquisitions—giving them a change of scene and bringing to bear their extensive organizational know-how.

Career Changes

Provide attractive internal career changes to help middlescents develop new specialties.

Early in his 30+ years with Pitney Bowes, Dave Nassef served as a factory personnel manager and then marketer. When the company centralized HR, he was one of the few HR managers with manufacturing and marketing experience. At 40, he took on HR responsibility for half the company. Nassef's additional careers within Pitney Bowes include corporate ombudsman and company representative in Washington.


Encourage middlescents to mentor less-seasoned employees. Your midcareer managers will relish giving back to their organization and making new social connections in the workplace.

At Intel, a companywide employee database tracks skills attained and needed and matches employees with mentors—even if they're in a different country. Both mentors and protégés take classes to learn ways to maximize the mutual benefit of their relationship.

Fresh Training

Don't assume your middlescents don't need training. Provide brief introductions to new business areas to expand their perspectives and trigger their interest in learning more. Use refresher courses and in-depth education to help them strengthen or develop their skills.

The U.K.'s National Health Service is responding to a chronic nursing shortage by training seasoned aides to become nurses.


Provide paid sabbaticals: They cost less than replacing disaffected middlescents, and most people return from sabbaticals more committed than ever.

At Wells Fargo, employees with five or more years of service and qualifying performance ratings can work in community service settings of their choosing for up to four months while receiving full pay and benefits. One employee traveled to Armenia to help women establish businesses. The company reaped good publicity, and the employee returned to work highly energized and recommitted.

Leadership Development

Just because midcareer workers are older doesn't mean they don't aspire to higher roles. Give them access to leadership development programs to rejuvenate them and stock your leadership pipeline.

Health insurer Independence Blue Cross has put one-third of its top 600 people—most of them middlescents—through a leadership program. It includes a weeklong session at the Wharton School, individual coaching and career planning, and work on important business projects.

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