Published March 1, 2021
How to Know When You Should Change Careers Over 50
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When that niggle of unhappiness strikes your career, what should you do? No career is perfect, it’s normal to have moments of stress and dissatisfaction.
But when the occasional flash of discontent gives way to the persistent feeling that something’s not right, it’s worth considering changing careers.
Realising you’re not entirely happy in your job is pretty terrifying. Particularly in midlife or as an older adult, a career change into a new field, new industry, or a new job might seem like an unnecessary risk.
A new job search is a big challenge: you need to go job hunting – research the job market, browse job searches, write your cover letter, read up on interview tips, go through job interviews, update your LinkedIn profile. You may need upskilling such as through online courses or careers advice to land the right job for you.
But while it’s probably safer to stay where you’re comfortable (even if you know you’re unhappy there), it’s not necessary. You likely have transferable skills to switch into your dream job at any age.
The first step is figuring out if your current career path is suiting you. There are key factors to consider when determining whether your unhappiness and stress need to be acknowledged and acted on. Are you putting up with any of these red flags?
- Poor Work/Life Balance
- Ageism in the Workplace
- Lack of Fulfilment
Burnout is the exhaustion that results from long-lasting stress. It can be caused by:
- A workload that’s too heavy. Where there’s more to do than what you can reasonably get done in the amount of time you have.
- Doing too many mundane and unfulfilling tasks rather than using your skillset.
- Being responsible for too many things, and not being able to ask for advice.
- Not being rewarded or acknowledged for your contributions. It can be especially stressful when you’re watching other people getting unfairly rewarded for less-than-spectacular performance.
- Feeling isolated from other people in your workplace.
- Working in a position that’s at odds with your personal values.
Burnout is relatively common – one in five Australians report taking time off in a given year because they felt stressed, anxious, or depressed. There can be constructive ways to combat burnout – like taking a break – but sometimes the specific job or workplace is simply unhealthy and it’s time to explore new career opportunities.
The impact of unhealthy work environments is huge. In terms of your own health, burnout can lead to stress-related physical conditions like insomnia, increased colds and other viruses, and circulation and metabolic problems.
Exhaustion is not just physical though, it’s also mental and emotional. Your motivation may dip, it’s impossible to feel excited about your job, and it’s likely that your performance will suffer. Your mental health may also be at risk.
1 in 5
Aussies take time off for stress, anxiety or depression
Signs of Burnout
Here are some signs that your stress levels have exceeded what’s acceptable, and that your burnout may be bad enough to consider leaving:
If the working conditions causing you to be burnt out have been ongoing
(And don’t seem likely to improve). For instance, maybe you’ve tried delegating tasks, or clarifying responsibilities, and have just been met with resistance.
How things go after you’ve taken a break
Sometimes all we need is a refreshing few days off. When you come back from your break though, if you find that you’re quickly feeling burned out again after only a few days or weeks, chances are the work environment is a big contributor to your burnout.
If your employer doesn’t value sustainable work/life balance
Or healthy work hours.
If your employer or job doesn’t align with your values
Sometimes conflicts in values are easy to predict: a vegetarian might not feel comfortable working for a slaughterhouse, for example.
But sometimes you can only discover your employer’s values over time: Do they respect workers? Are they proactive about receiving and implementing feedback? Are they looking for workers, to be honest, or to pretend problems don’t exist?
As you get to understand the workplace values, you can assess whether they feel healthy to you.
Consider how bad your burnout is
If it’s disrupting your life, health, and relationships, you may need to break free.
Poor Work/Life Balance
A good work/life balance allows you to feel energised and focused at work and to enjoy family and leisure time, and get in a good night’s sleep. It’s essential for a healthy life. It’s also essential for a sustainable full-time career: when you have the opportunity to enjoy yourself and rest, you’re more likely to be productive in your job.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development considers working hours in excess of 50 per week as “very long”, which affects about 13% of workers in Australia. The impact is not being able to have enough time to enjoy elements of your life aside from work such as family and other relationships, hobbies, and leisure time. In the long run, it can lead to burnout.
Sometimes poor work/life balance isn’t caused by excessive work hours, but by the cognitive load of work. If you have a job that’s difficult to switch off from, that you have stress dreams about, or where it’s expected for you to answer phone calls and emails after hours, you may have just as many work/life balance issues as someone who’s constantly in the office.
Work/life balance is important for everybody, but 2018 research by Australia’s Human Rights Commission found that flexible working arrangements/part-time job options were the top factors that would encourage Australians over 50 years old to stay in a job for longer.
of aussies work over 50 hours per week
Some people like longer work hours, but if you’re finding that you’re getting less time for things that are important to you, that’s a problem. It’s worth seeing if your current job could allow flexible working arrangements such as working from home, reducing to part-time hours, job sharing, or clarifying work/life boundaries.
If the workplace refuses though, it may be time to explore other career options.
Ageism in the Workplace
Age discrimination is unlawful, but unfortunately, older people encounter it in workplaces in Australia.
The Human Rights Commission study found that stereotypes persist about older people. Generally, organisations assess older workers as less energetic, creative, ambitious, adaptable to change, physically capable, and having fewer technology skills than younger people.
While older workers were generally seen as having strengths compared to young people too – in qualities such as loyalty, reliability, and the ability to focus effectively and cope with stress – these stereotypes are still confronting in the workplace.
The impact of ageism is feeling disrespected, and underappreciated, which can lead to burnout. It’s also a huge loss to the workplace if they don’t see the value in your experience.
Some signs of ageism in the workplace include:
- Opportunities – like training, promotions, and networking events – being given to younger workers but not older ones.
- If you’re disproportionately given tasks that are relatively mundane and not on par with your current skills and experience.
- Being isolated from other workers, left out of meetings or events, or not being in the loop for company news and activities.
- Being on the receiving end of age-related snarky comments or stereotypes.
- You’ve had a successful career but your progression has stalled.
Ageism can be addressed within the workplace by confronting rude colleagues or making formal complaints. However, if you don’t feel fundamentally valued, it may be time to look for a new job.
The challenge of leaving your job due to ageism, though, is that it’s then possible you’d face ageist recruiters and hiring managers. The Human Rights Commission found 20% of organisations are reluctant to hire people over the age of 50, even though many candidates are nowhere near retirement age. These attitudes persisted despite the fact that most organisations acknowledged that older workers brought with them valuable skills and years of experience.
Fighting this ageism is difficult, but you have rights as a worker. Be confident in your existing knowledge and experience, your capacity to build new skills, and find workplaces that see your value too.
of organisations are reluctant to hire people over 50
Lack of Fulfilment
According to the Marmot Review, a landmark study into public health, “good work” involves having a sense of autonomy, participating in decision-making, having responsibilities commensurate with your abilities, offers opportunities for career development and promotion, and brings a sense of meaning and belonging.
If your workplace doesn’t fulfil these fundamental needs, you’re at increased risk of anxiety and depression, and stress-related illnesses.
Everybody has times at work where they feel like they aren’t getting anything important done. But here are some signs that your lack of fulfilment is more than just a few bad days, and it might be time for new challenges:
- Months are passing by and each day feels the same.
- Your work feels persistently joyless or boring.
- You aren’t connecting with your colleagues or the people your organisation is meant to serve.
- You completely know how to do your role and there’s no pathway for future promotions or development.
- You don’t feel like an active participant in your workplace – you’re just told what to do and aren’t trusted to use your judgement or initiative.
- You don’t feel what you do has any purpose.
Have you pin-pointed your unhappiness?
Although it’s challenging to consider changing into a new role, the costs of not addressing some of these red flags may be painful over time too, leading to missed opportunities, health risks, and general dissatisfaction in life.
Thinking about your current career goals and wondering if maybe you’d be better off making the career change could be an important first step in finding a work life you love, that gives you time for yourself and everything else that’s important to you.
There might be something you like in this list of job ideas for people over 50.
Making a Career Change as an Older Adult: The Complete Guide
In this guide we’ve compiled everything you need to know about changing careers as an older adult.
If you’d like to learn more about starting your career change, what it’s like to be a mature age student, picking a career path, or even writing career change cover letters, all the information you need is here.
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