How to lift your top team out of a work rut

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Senior employees are often forgotten when it comes to disengagement, but it's vital any apathy is tackled before it spreads

Even the most successful executives and senior managers can reach a stage where the enjoyment has evaporated from their professional life, their motivation and engagement has dried up, and each new day seems unbearably like the last.

The fulfilment, adrenaline charge and excitement that were once there have disappeared and instead they are stuck in a low-energy and often miserable rut. If allowed to continue stress or even depression will be down the track. The strengths and values that have propelled them to the pinnacle of their career are at risk of becoming toxic and affecting everyone from the investors to their department.

While many businesses focus on keeping their junior and customer-facing team members motivated, when those at the top get stuck in a rut the ramifications are far more widely felt.

It is a common problem that is rarely acknowledged. For instance, our research found more than 14% of Britain’s executives and managers (aged 40 and older) reported they 'very often felt… stuck in a rut for quite a period of time', with a further 12% who persistently felt 'very demotivated', 'low energy' (11%), 'unfulfilled' (13%), and/or 'trapped here' (13%). An even larger number admitted to often feeling this way.

Their poor leadership also hurts their teams – undermining morale, leading to employee disengagement and attrition.

As members of the sandwich generation many senior executives find themselves squeezed between juggling work and caring for children and parents. They are also dealing with existential doubt about the role they should play and who they really want to be for the last third of their lives. Is it any wonder that mental as well as physical health problems are growing in this age group?

Rather than tackling work misery as an afterthought, HR professionals need to do more to manage it as a behavioural risk that ranks on a par with financial, operational and reputational risk.

This is especially important because the over-45s are the fastest-growing age segment of UK workers, growing by more than 250,000 every year. By the end of the decade it is expected that nearly half of all workers will be in this age bracket.

Developing initiatives that are targeted at energising managers and executives who have started to fall out of love with their work can pay huge dividends. But it is not a question of a team-building away day or a motivational course. Deep-set dissatisfaction needs solutions that get to the core.

The notion that careers peak when people reach their forties and fifties needs to be challenged. Insurance giant Aviva for instance offers mid-life MOTs to all workers aged 45 and older with three key aims: review wealth, work and wellbeing at the mid-point in their lives; reposition towards a longer working life; and retain the talent held by this growing population.

It is fresh approaches like this that are needed to help head off late-career ruts before people spiral into apathy. Another option is to involve experienced mentors so people can talk about how they're feeling about their working life without judgement or fear of career consequences.

Alternatively mentoring a younger colleague may be beneficial, as research has shown it can reduce anxiety in the mentor. Gaining a fresh perspective from someone new to the business could even help remind senior staff what they used to appreciate about their role and the wider business.

Kedge Martin is CEO of executive mentors Rutbusters

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