‘Quarter-life crisis’ among young workers spurring career changes

Research warns large numbers of millennials want to start different jobs soon, but experts say concerns may be over-hyped

Younger employees are facing a “quarter-life career dilemma”, according to research revealing 67 per cent of workers under the age of 40 are likely to make a major career change in the near future. 

The poll of more than 2,000 workers between the ages of 21 and 40 showed nearly two-fifths of respondents (39 per cent) did not feel passionately about their current job. Meanwhile, 86 per cent reported feeling they were at a crossroads in their professional lives.

The survey was conducted by Censuswide for Get Into Teaching, a Department for Education campaign. In light of the research results, the campaign has launched a new advert aimed at those considering a career change, emphasising how rewarding a career in teaching can be.

Responding to the survey, experts warned that employers needed to offer staff more opportunities for progression and fulfilment to retain and attract a workforce that increasingly seeks more meaning from their work.

“You're seeing a lot more people moving around, wanting variety, wanting different challenges, maybe needing more gratification quicker,” said Matt Weston, managing director of recruitment firm Robert Half UK. “[Employers] that have adapted to the [tougher] marketplace are more successful and are attracting people and retaining people.”

However, Jon Boys, labour market economist at the CIPD, argued that this trend was nothing new. “Young people always move jobs much more often than older people,” he said. “It's just an age thing; it's not a millennial thing.

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“When you're young that's when you have your biggest productivity increases. So that's when you get more pay rises, and job-to-job moves are one of the only ways to really get a pay rise nowadays. So that's all there is to it.” 

Boys added that the current cohort of young workers were actually more likely to stay in their jobs longer than previous generations were at a similar age. He highlighted the decline in young people moving jobs uncovered by recent Resolution Foundation research, which also found the number of young people in work had almost halved in the last 20 years. 

“People just like to rip on the younger generation, but it's basically not true,” Boys said. 

Katrina Collier, author of The Robot-Proof Recruiter, agreed people’s desire to seek out new careers in their 20s and 30s was not unique to millenials. She said the “huge gamechanger” people tended to overlook was the internet. “What it’s created is clarity. I can see what other opportunities there are out there – anybody can, at whatever age they are,” she said.

Of the workers polled by Censuswide, 44 per cent cited wanting a more rewarding career as a factor that would encourage them to change jobs before turning 40, and 41 per cent cited better long-term prospects.

However, Suzi Edwards-Alexander, director of tech recruitment firm Appartenir, suggested career expectations in the workforce were changing. “We essentially have higher expectations for our work lives and career changing will continue to thrive because of this,” she said. “Employees expect more and are more willing to say 'this no longer works for me'.”

Edwards-Alexander emphasised that career changers were a valuable asset to organisations as they had made a deliberate, informed decision about what they wanted to do with their working life. As such, she warned against treating them like new graduates and not fast-tracking their salary and career progression.

Weston advised employers to regularly check in with existing staff to ensure they are finding their jobs meaningful and satisfying. “You’ve got to have your finger on the pulse to see what people really want from a career,” he said.