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Corporates have created an ‘up or out’ culture, one that will ultimately lose the experienced professionals they’ve worked so hard to attract and retain. It’s a mid-life career crisis that’s impacting some very talented people, many with years of valuable experience.

That’s bad news for an organisation’s knowledge and talent retention but that’s their problem – it doesn’t have to be yours. More about that later.

But first, let’s look at why this is happening. Maybe you recognise your career path or organisation here…

A narrowing, pyramid structure

Ever been in a pyramid in Egypt? The higher you climb, the narrower and more unpleasant it gets. It can be stifling in there, eventually there’s nowhere left to go but back down and out. Does this sound familiar?

Just like in a real pyramid, many organisations have created a point at which there’s no opportunity to go any further.  That’s because somehow, they have bought into the idea that if you are not progressing then you shouldn’t stay. It’s a crazy approach, they are losing the people that have years and years of valuable experience.

A culture of retirement

I meet so many people who are coming into their late 40s, or early 50s, and they are finding that the organisations that they work for have, in effect, created a ‘culture of retirement’ if you do not advance. So how does this play out?.

If you are never going to reach the top then, rather than find the right outlet for your talent, they assume that you are going to need to be replaced by someone more thrusting and vigorous. Someone coming from underneath, who will bring their energy and new ideas into the role, replacing a colleague who might be doing a very good job in their current position, and could carry on doing so for another five, ten, even fifteen years.

Sent off at half-time

This creates a huge problem for these victims of institutional ageism, because they know that if they are aged 50, they have at least twenty-five years of deep professional experience behind them – and they should have much more in front. It’s really only the half-way, half-time point in today’s career span.

A typical executive at the age of 45, who may have come into a graduate programme in their early twenties, has had a career of twenty years, and with a retirement age of 65, 45 is mid-life. Or even with a retirement age of 75, then 50 is mid-life.

It’s just too soon to be sent home early, especially when they have so much more to offer.

The cycle of experience – past, present and future

If you are 45-50 plus, you’ve been working long enough to have witnessed two, maybe three recessions. It’s not a great experience at the time, but the learning from the experience is invaluable. What’s more, it’s a cycle that comes around and round again – just like business trends and what we learn from them.

For example, in my own field of IT, we have had these cycles where we move from mainframes to PC’s and then the move from mini-computers to thin clients, and now we have the Cloud and mobile handsets. What we are getting again and again, is this yo-yo where the computing power moves from the centre to the periphery and back again, and these cycles happen over and over again. I see similar trends within HR and marketing.

The real danger for organisations is losing the deep experience of what these kinds of transformations require. The irony is that once they’ve lost it – they often realise they need to buy it back in.

In conclusion

That is why I describe corporates as having a mid-life crisis. It’s one of their own making but your career can’t wait for them to wise up, especially when there is a huge opportunity for experienced executives to find a different workstyle.

If you are not taking control of your career and planning for a different workstyle then there’s a real likelihood that you’ll get caught up in this climate of ageism – and the narrowing corporate pyramid may not have a place for you.

How to take back control

You can stay, face redundancy, loss of income, and on a continuous basis feeling devalued. Or you can take control of your career and working life, so that the corporate mid-life crisis does not become your mid-life crisis.

That’s why we’ve developed the Portfolio Executives programme – giving you a path to freedom where you’ll bring all your past skills and experience to create a way of work that works best – and continues to work – for you.


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.