There are a whole host of reasons people stay in jobs that are unsatisfying. These positions don’t suit them or produce so little meaning that they are profoundly disappointing. There are cultural, financial, and personal forces that militate against taking bold career moves toward a more satisfying career. My clients prove the exception to these rules and I am inspired by their courage every day.

An expectation can be a powerful cultural force. Many accept the idea that career success is defined by rising steadily into the senior ranks of a chosen organization and retiring after 30 years of loyal service. This may have been true for the generation following the Second World War. However, it has almost no bearing on current career paths with their constant change and emphasis on individual strengths rather than long-term organizational affiliation.

Despite the changes in opportunities offered by the information age to work across cultures and continents, the cultural idea of staying in place year after year has a powerful hold on baby boomers. This is less true for younger generations who don’t fear being perceived as a less dependable “job hopper”.

One client in his fifties said to me “ I have hated my job for almost a decade and wouldn’t have left where I got my first job until they offered me a buyout. Now I have no idea about where to go.”

There are several financial reasons that midlife workers stay put in jobs that are unsatisfying.

  • First and foremost is a built-in conservatism not to rock the family’s boat.
  • Another reason is that they are totally unaware of the financial opportunities available in a different field.
  • Many are naturally conservative about risking the future financial security of what they have even if it does not seem particularly generous.

A client wrote to me “I couldn‘t believe that I made almost 50% more in my new field after the first two years. Their salaries and rate of increase in compensation were on a different planet than my old industry.”

The personal and cultural forces that keep people in jobs that are unsatisfying are legion.

  • “I didn’t think my skills were transferrable.”
  • “My kids are in high school and would kill me if I proposed a move.”
  • “I am not sure that I could keep up with younger people in a new field.”
  • “I cannot face having to prove myself to a whole new group of people.”
  • “I am tired of having to work through the political issues in my bureaucracy but the idea of starting something of my own would keep me awake at night.”

While these forces are keeping more boomers stuck in unsatisfying roles the world is moving in ways to dislodge the intransigent. Early retirement buyouts are getting more common. Many people are finding second careers that offer satisfying ways to use their experience and talent for another ten to fifteen years. The best way to stay ahead of the grim career reaper is to remain open-minded, flexible and self-aware about both career possibilities and what you bring to the party after years of experience. I recommend my earlier posts about how to identify your ideal job and how to tell an effective story of your accomplishments.

Peter Sherer is a nationally recognized career coach who offers clarity and confidence to mid-career and senior executives in transition. His rigorous assessment tools enable his clients to identify a meaningful assignment that uses all of their skills and experience in just two short days. Learn more and get in touch with Peter today.