94 Work and Personality
Productivity at Work
We have already discussed expertise as part of our look at cognitive development in midlife. A person may be at their peak of performance at work during this time. Connections between work units, companies, culture, and operations may be appreciated for the first time and with that, a midlife worker may be able to contribute to an organization in new, more comprehensive ways. Midlife may also be the peak time for earning and spending to meet the demands of launching children or caring for aging parents.
Work and midlife includes many scenarios. Some experience stable careers while others experience lay-offs and find themselves back in school to gain new skills for reemployment. Others experience discrimination due to age or find it difficult to gain employment because of the higher salary demands compared with younger, less experienced workers (Barnett, 1997). Many people over 50 seek meaning as well as income in careers entered into in midlife known as “encore careers” www.encore.org/). Some midlife adults anticipate retirement, while others may be postponing it for financial reasons. Listen to this story of Encore Careers in the lives of Baby Boomers.
The workplace today is one in which many people from various walks of life come together. Work schedules are more flexible and varied, and more work independently from home or anywhere there is an internet connection. The midlife worker must be flexible, stay current with technology, and be capable of working within a global community. And the midlife mind seeks meaningful work.
Personality in Midlife
Does the personality change in midlife? Think about your parents or other adults you’ve known for some time. Did their personalities change when they reached midlife? Or were they pretty much the same? Some theorists maintain that personality becomes more stable as we reach middle adulthood. Other suggest that with age comes the addition of new personality traits-one’s we may not have felt comfortable showing when we were younger.
Midlife is viewed as a time of increased stability especially if compared with early adulthood or adolescence. A person’s tendency toward extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness, the Big Five personality traits, is more consistent (McCrae & Costa, 2003). Midlife adults become more agreeable, but decline in openness and neuroticism.
However, midlife is also viewed as a time of change. Carl Jung believed that our personality actually matures as we get older. A healthy personality is one that is balanced. People suffer tension and anxiety when they fail to express all of their qualities. Jung believed that each of us possess a “shadow side”. For example, those who are typically introverted also have an extroverted side that rarely finds expression unless we are relaxed and uninhibited. Each of us has both a masculine and feminine side but in younger years, we feel societal pressure to give expression only to one. As we get older, we may become freer to express all of our traits as the situation arises. We find gender convergence in older adults. Men become more interested in intimacy and family ties. Women may become more assertive. This gender convergence is also affected by changes in society’s expectations for males and females. With each new generation we find that the roles of men and women are less stereotypic and this allows for change as well.
Again, a sense of mastery and control over one’s life can help midlife adults meet the challenges of this time of life (Lachman and Firth, 2004).
Midlife is a period of transition. It is also a time of productivity and expertise; a time of putting things together. Midlife is perhaps the least studied period of life. The story of midlife will continue to unfold as more attention is given to it as a part of the lifespan.