Age stereotypes stunt career progression, study finds

Gen X and Millennials are least satisfied in their careers, compared with other generations, the survey found

Nearly a fifth (18%) of UK workers reported that they think the age limit to switch careers is in their 40s. A slightly lower proportion (13%) think that their career switching options are limited after their 30s, research by St James’s Place Financial Adviser Academy found.

The financial adviser training provider surveyed 4,000 UK employees and published its findings yesterday (3 June): Gen X workers (aged 44 to 59) were the most dissatisfied with their current careers of all the generations of people surveyed, as 27% of Gen Xers expressed being unhappy in their occupation.

Millennials (aged 28 to 43) were the second most unhappy generation at work: 23% reported being unsatisfied in their roles. 

Contrastingly, 82% of Baby Boomers (aged 60 to 69) indicated that they were satisfied in their career.

According to Michael Houlihan, CEO of employment charity Generation UK and Ireland, stereotypes about age are preventing mid-career employees from re-entering the workforce or upskilling.

He told HR magazine: “The sad, demonstrated reality for many mid-career employees (those aged 45 and over) is that ageist presumptions, built on flawed logic regarding their adaptability and capacity to learn, become increasingly severe as they get older.

“As a result, many talented, experienced, highly valuable, people who may have become unemployed due to sectoral shifts (which will be increasingly common) face significant challenges to re-enter the workforce. The evidence also shows that they know the odds are stacked against them, and so are less likely to reskill.”

Read more: Over-55s left behind in skills training

Research by training provider Corndel (29 April) found that 75% of over-55s had been left behind in digital and human skills training.

Houlihan added that employers should create a culture that encourages employees of all ages to pursue new skills.

He continued: “Companies need to adopt the mindset that their employees can continue to learn new skills, whatever their age. Employers that not only cater for but encourage continuous learning opportunities amongst their older employees will reap the rewards of an intellectually fulfilled and challenged workforce.

"It is vital that workplaces actively make a point of identifying and celebrating their mid-career and older workers who continue to learn and advance their own careers. The good news is that employers that do this realise significant benefits; the data shows that mid-career workers are just as able and willing to reskill, and then, on average, outperform their younger peers."

Read more: Gen X least satisfied cohort at work

St James's Place research also found that, despite career dissatisfaction among Millennials and Gen X, 27% of UK employees have never changed careers.

A separate study by Indeed (29 September 2023) found that 34% of Gen Xers said they lack development opportunities. This was higher than the average for all workers (29%). Meanwhile, 37% of Gen X employees reported that their age is stopping them from getting a better job.

Asad Husain, consultant, told HR magazine that HR is responsible for encouraging employees to think about career ambitions.

He said: "HR needs to encourage discussions about employee career aspirations and understand how employees at all ages are thinking about their careers, and their concerns about it.

"HR can significantly improve job satisfaction and career opportunities for Gen X and Millennial employees by helping them navigate the evolving world of work.

"This starts with educating them about the shifting career landscape, where traditional linear paths are giving way to more fluid and dynamic ones. Encouraging deeper self-discovery through assessments, coaching and mentoring can help individuals identify their transferable skills, interests and values, enabling them to explore new career directions."

St James’s Place commissioned Opinium to survey 4,000 UK adults between 7 February and 18 March 2024.