For 30-something mid-career workers, charting a path towards greater responsibility and a director-level job can be an anxious process. It can also provoke anxiety for their employers.
Is it better for workers to stay loyal to their current employer or pursue another rung on the career ladder somewhere else?
Can they fit in the time to gain further education or more professional credentials, and if they do, will their company support it or will it put their jobs at risk?
On the other side of the table, employers wonder whether it’s in their interest to make such sacrifices for workers who may depart for rivals once they’ve gotten an MBA or accumulated the management experience they seek. Yet if they don’t support a worker’s ambitions, do they risk alienating a mid-career employee who sees no path forward from their current job?
‘Dangerous in a good way’
Cheriene Griffith, operations manager at Chevoo, a startup artisan cheese company in Healdsburg, characterized the dilemma for both employers and mid-career employees as a kind of crisis point.
“I was recently told that I am at a great point in my career and that I have all the knowledge and experience to be dangerous in a good way,” Griffith said. At Chevoo she has hired some of the employees who work under her, which gives her the chance to shape the culture at the small start-up, where everyone does a little bit of everything.
Figuring out how to synthesize all her “dangerous” career experience and skills is something Griffith, who studied engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy, hopes to do in partnership with her employer, just as she once worked in partnership with her superiors in the military.
Military leaders ask tough things from subordinates, but always keep in mind how to prepare those subordinates for advancement and promotion to new jobs.
Griffith pointed to the idea of “serving as part of something greater than myself” as a source of motivation in the military, and suggested that ethos is also helpful in the private sector.
Giving employees at any level greater responsibility is key for employers who want to keep them, said Griffith, but particularly so for mid-career people. At a startup, where there are never enough people to do everything that needs doing, responsibility is hers if she wants it, and if she’s willing to step up and take a swing at it — and, of course, she is.
“Being a key decision-maker in a startup is simultaneously fast paced, agonizing and rewarding,” she said. “I wear many hats and do the best I can to keep balance and forward momentum in the company.”
“I like to be challenged, always have, and my work experience has echoed this,” said Nathan Wilson, quality assurance manager at La Tortilla Factory in Santa Rosa.
Seeking challenges while pursuing his different interests led Wilson on a zigzag career path that is typical of many modern workers. He grew up in Sacramento, where he worked in the food industry in his teens — cafés, catering and restaurants — but with occasional forays into construction “to switch things up.”
Construction work taught Wilson about heating and air conditioning technology, landscaping, excavation and other types of work he’d never have encountered in the food industry.