Work Is the Worst When You’re in Your 30s

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Photo: NBC

It is a popular internet thing to focus on the upside of being in your 30s, and it is nice to know how to do basic modern-human-being things like paying your taxes and cooking a simple meal. But it can be a less-rosy story at work: People in their late 20s to early 40s tend to report lower levels of job satisfaction and higher levels of emotional exhaustion than other age groups, according to new research

This new paper, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, is consistent with previous work showing a dip in workplace happiness around the 30s. There’s the obvious reason: These tend to be the ages that people have young children at home, and the researchers did find that this group reported feeling increasingly crunched for time. But adding to that pressure, co-worker support also tends to dissipate at this age, according to this paper. BPS Research Digest interprets the findings:

Support from co-workers probably dips in midlife as peers compete for scarce resources (promotion bottlenecks are often encountered during this career stage). Also, whereas younger counterparts are often hungry to forge new social networks, and older workers seek identity-affirming work experiences in their remaining tenure, midlifers find it demanding enough just to maintain existing social networks. Meanwhile, time pressure likely intensifies mid-career as colleagues try to leverage one's knowledge and experience.

But the good news is that after about a decade of suck, things start to pick back up again. Occupational psychologists say that happiness at work recovers when people reach their 40s, and that people in their 50s are more satisfied with their jobs than any other age group. Hang in there, 30-somethings — soon you will be old(er), but at least work will suck less!