Age of discontent: is it all downhill from 35?

Research finds the age of discontent at work starts at just 35, fuelled by under-appreciation and stress. Yet entrepreneurs seem happier as they get older, according to separate research.

One in five people over the age off 55 are unhappy at work. And apparently, work-related ennui starts at age 35. It’s all downhill from there.

This according to research by Happiness Works on behalf of Robert Half UK, which looked at what influences employee happiness in the workplace. It showed that older generations are more heavily affected by workplace stress. Those in Generation X don’t fare much better with 16 per cent of 35 to 54 year olds admitting they are also unhappy in their roles. This is double the number of millennials that said the same. In stark contrast to the older generations, less than one in ten of those aged 18 to 34 claimed to be unhappy in their jobs.

One in three of those aged over 35 found their job stressful. This figure is significantly lower for 18 to 35 year olds where only a quarter said they suffered from stress. Complaints about work-life balance also come into play the older you are. In total, 12 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 and 17 per cent of those aged over 55 struggle to juggle work with other aspects of their life. In comparison, just one in 10 millennials feel the same.

For those aged over 35, a little appreciation could go a long way. Overall, 60 per cent of those aged 18 to 35 feel appreciated and just 15 per cent feel undervalued. In comparison, a quarter of 35 to 54 year olds feel under-appreciated, with this figure rising to 29 per cent for those aged over 55.

“Employees that are aged over 35 have valuable experience that the whole organisation can learn and benefit from,” explained Phil Sheridan, senior managing director at Robert Half UK. “It’s important that their happiness is not neglected, so businesses need to take the time to invest in their staff at all levels. Simple things like conducting regular performance reviews, offering new opportunities for learning and setting ambitious career goals are all steps that can ensure more tenured workers feel appreciated and that career goals don’t become static.”

Overall, 68 per cent of 18 to 34 year olds felt more free to be themselves at work, with more than half of this generation, saying that they were able to be creative at work. This compared to 38 per cent of Generation X and 31 per cent of over 55 year olds, who said they were able to be creative. As employees get older, they are also far less likely to view their colleagues as friends. In fact, 14 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 years old and 16 per cent of those aged over 55 said they don’t have good friends at work, clearly keeping their work and social lives separate. By comparison, three in five 18 to 34 year olds said that they had good friends at work.

Older business owners may be happier

A separate study by HSBC Private Bank based on the views of over 4000 entrepreneurs, reveals a distinct difference in mindset between entrepreneurs of different generations. Older business owners tend to look inwards and rely on themselves when things go wrong. Younger business owners are more likely to ask for help, drawing on a network of professional acquaintances and friends. In their quest to build a name for themselves and increase their influence, the creation of strong support networks is particularly important for the younger generation. Millennials achieve this through a greater focus on company strategy and internal staff management, dedicating half an hour more each day to these tasks than their older counterparts. This younger group is less likely to get involved into day-to-day delivery of products and services, freeing up on average 42 minutes a day by empowering employees to make important client-facing decisions. By placing greater emphasis on overall business strategy and managing talent internally, their network is strengthened.

Additionally, older entrepreneurs have broader and deeper networks, which is important for doing business and raising funding.

The research reveals that it is more common for entrepreneurs who have built their businesses through their 20s, 30s and 40s to exit their businesses in their 50s. It is not unusual for these successful leaders to seek a second bite of the cherry; taking the risk to start up again. Success has afforded these entrepreneurs the luxury of time and the ability to choose how they continue their business-owning careers .A few go on to start a second operating company, but many more become angel investors or take board positions to stay actively involved in business. This lays the foundation for happier, productive careers that comes from being older and wiser.

Yet another study from Barclays Business Banking looked at the demographics of 1.1 million business owners. The number of SMEs run by people over the age of 65 has increased by 140 per cent over the last ten years, making it the fastest-growing age group in terms of entrepreneurship and self-employment. Overall the people who were 55 or older saw a 63 per cent increase over the same period. Meanwhile, the number of ventures run by people between the ages of 25 and 34 only grew by 23 per cent. If the answer to happier work lives is inversely proportional to age for employees, but the opposite is true for the self-employed, this trend may only continue to rise.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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