Midlife career stress: construction & initial validation of a multidimensional measure.

AuthorKhan, Ahmad Faraz


Contemporary work environment is turbulent and dynamic (Arthur, Inkson & Pringle, 1999; Hall, 2002). According to a rough estimate around 30-40% executives in India suffer from stress (De Souza, 2012). Stress accounts for twice the costs of non-stress physical injury at the workplace, which is close to $200 billion per annum (Byrum-Robinson, 1993). There is a long list of stressors identified by researchers including role in the organization, relationships at work, work culture, job content, plateauing etc. Even non-work stressors are heavy contributors to the overall strain on the individual (Cartwright & Cooper, 1997).

Stress at different phases in life tends to be different. It has been observed that midlife is vulnerable to stress. Midlife managers are a critical asset who experience a unique set of age-related issues which their counterparts in young and old adulthood may not experience. Withdrawal of midlife managers from work due to stress may result in crisis in succession planning apart from loss on the financial front. Moreover, 'Mid-career gaps' are on the increase (Schneer & Reitman, 1997). The problems associated with stress arise when the demand put on the individual outweigh the resources and coping strategies to meet those demands (Bal, Campbell & McDowell-Larsen, 2008).Loss of experienced midlife managers due to stress is an even bigger loss for the organization vis-a-vis loss of other entry level executives. A substantial amount of time and money has already been invested in midlife managers. Moreover, midlife managers are due to acquire or are already getting into leadership roles in many organizations. As a stepping stone to aid the understanding of midlife career related issues, the present study attempts to develop and validate a scale that captures the phenomenon of midlife career stress (MLCS), as age related stress has largely been ignored by researchers in the past (Jex, 1998).

Theoretical Background

Midlife is considered as the afternoon of life. The onset of this phase is characterized by stagnation in life and career. There is lack of clarity regarding the exact timing of the onslaught of midlife. It is typically seen as starting at age 40 and extending to age 60, but with vague and fuzzy boundaries (Staudinger & Bluck, 2001). The timing of midlife also depends on whether the respondent is older, middle-aged or young adult (Lachman, Lewkowicz, Marcus & Peng, 1994) as people age at different rates (Shute, 1997). Midlife can further be defined biologically (as the later decades of reproductively mature adulthood) (Lu, 2011) or in terms of relationship as the time when parents age and children grow up and move out (Noller, Feeney, & Peterson, 2001).This phase has been conceptualized as transitional in nature marked by new roles, expectations and anticipations. Midlife being a turbulent phase is often stressful (Khan, Talib & Akhtar, 2014). Managers are prone to career change decision during midlife (Louis, 1980). Though middle-aged managers are considered at their peak (Neugarten, 1968), they tend to experience biological, social and psychological changes (Pillari, 1998) which may be stressful.

According to Jaques (1965) coming to terms with our mortality is the central developmental task of midlife. Adults in midlife start worrying about deterioration in health and various manifestations of ageing (Dziegielewski, Heymann, Green & Gichia, 2002). Physical changes in men like decreased hair growth, deterioration of the sex glands, wrinkles, slowing blood circulation, sluggish digestion, and the vulnerability of the prostate to problems, including prostate cancer, a slow response time, a decrease in cardiovascular efficiency are commonly observed (Dziegielewski, et al., 2002). Watching physiological changes in oneself compels middle adults to confront death as a not so distant possibility (Freund and Ritter, 2009). The MIDUS survey found that physical health had a significant positive as well as negative affect across the adult years (Brim et al., 2004).

Psychosocial aspects in midlife are the more difficult for both men and women, although the physical changes can appear to be more threatening (Dziegielewski et al., 2002). Midlife is a phase in an executive's life when he starts feeling uneasy regarding his job and personal life and socio-economic status etc. (Strenger & Ruttenberg, 2008). This is a period of self-doubt where the individual looks back at his life with a feeling of regret, guilt or incompleteness or a combination of these feelings (Appelbaum & Finestone, 1994). Strenger and Ruttenburg (2008) noted that the midlife is the onset of decline and that the main psychological task of midlife is to come to terms with this decline (Cohen, 2005). In terms of developmental task perspective, midlife is defined as the period during which a "struggle" occurs between generativity and stagnation (Lachman, 2004). The period also triggers a realization that very little time is left to pursue their original dreams (Jacques, 1965; Levinson, Darrow, Klein, Levinson & McKee, 1978) as there is a change in time perspective from "time since birth" to "time left to live" (Neugarten, 1968).

Auster & Ekstein (2005) calls midlife, a time when work/life trade-offs and high performance expectations tend to collide. Midlife generation is often termed a sandwich generation, as they need to fulfill the needs of both their children and their ageing parents. Playing multiple roles like that of spouses, mothers and fathers, caregivers or receivers may cause a crisis (Brandes, 1986). In such a scenario conflicts between requirements at work and home are common. During this phase the executive has a feeling of discontentment with his life-both personally and professionally (Choy & Savery, 1998). The person feels that he is not being able to use his potential to the fullest (Drago et. al, 2005). Feeling of skill obsolescence is common among middle aged executives (Vries, 1993; McCune et al., 1988; Levinson, 1978).

Middle age came to be associated with reassessment (Vries, 1993; Levinson, 1978) in general but with the coining of the term "midlife crisis" by Elliott Jaques in a paper published in 1965 it acquired a negative connotation for many years to come. The notion of crisis attaches negativity to this phase of life. After analysing relevant literature on the theme of midlife, we found "midlife career stress" a fitting term to describe the complex and intermingled nature of state at midlife. Midlife Career Stress (MLCS) is described as a peculiar stress encountered by midlife adults before or during midlife transition. MLCS can be assumed to be the stage before "crisis" stage. Successful coping with MLCS shall result in successful midlife transition, thereby avoiding the "crisis" stage.

Literature is replete with references documenting Midlife Crisis, but most of them theoretical (such as Dziegielewski et al., 2002; Freud & Ritter, 2009). Even evidence based studies are mostly qualitative in nature and lack solid empirical grounding (example Brown et al., 2012; 2001; Rae, 2005; Strenger, 2009). Though a lot of quantitative survey based studies report issues related to midlife (such as Lu, 2011; Mendenhall et al., 2008; Perrig-Chiello & Perren, 2005), only one used a proper...

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