Understanding employees in their 30s

Guest contribution by | 03.07.2023

For some time now I have been experiencing déjà vu. I constantly find myself in similar conversations with friends and acquaintances. What unites all conversations is the basic mood, which conveys a certain heaviness and uncertainty. Challenges such as reconciling family and career, work-life balance or general exhaustion are recurring themes. Above all, however, a unifying element stands out: my interviewees are all in their 30s. The question that drives me is what constitutes the phase of life that so many people around me are currently going through and how it affects the world of work.

Is this the midlife crisis?

We have all heard of the “midlife crisis”. (The term generally seems very pathetic to me, but because of its recognition value it serves well here). It is often described as a phase of searching for meaning beyond the age of 40. According to common definitions, those affected feel the urge to question their previous way of life and to embark on a search for a new meaning.¹

The life satisfaction curve is often mentioned in the same context. According to a 2008 study by David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald, the satisfaction of individuals over the course of their lives can be described as a U-curve.² According to their findings, the low point occurs in midlife (i.e. around 40). There are several theories as to why this happens. One of them says that satisfaction deteriorates as one becomes part of the labour market (more and more of one’s life capacity is taken up by one’s job). In the early 50s, satisfaction should rise again because the fruits of years of hard work (financial security and established reputation) pay off and at the same time phases of intensive child-rearing come to an end. Another explanation is that we tend to enter adulthood with unrealistic expectations and by mid-life have to painfully recognise that the reality or possibilities open to us are different. Once this realism is established at around 50, the satisfaction curve rises again accordingly.

Is this a Millennial problem?

But now back to the mid-thirties, whose severity and insecurity I described at the beginning: There is a hypothesis that the midlife crisis for younger generations (such as the Millennials – birth cohort 1980 – 1999) can already occur in their 20s. The speed and pressure at the point of schooling and vocational training have increased and thus the low point of the satisfaction curve also appears earlier. Constant and rapid change leads to anxiety and the desire for more stability. Thus, a new crisis picture emerges for younger people who want to leave behind a life of being driven.

What makes the mid-30s phase of life different?

Having studied the classic midlife crisis and the challenges of millennials a bit more, I can recognise aspects that play a role, but neither of them really coincides with the life situation that I’m always talking about at the moment. So I’ll try to put together a few recurring characteristics myself:

Out of the spell

The first years of working life are over and the initial “magic” of working without temporary limits has faded. The following questions arise:

  • Will this go on forever?
  • When will there be a bigger break?
  • Have I set the right course for my professional future?

Work-life balance

It becomes clear that the previous mode of external and self-determination does not correspond to what is satisfying. Changing habits and disappointing expectations of oneself or others, however, is at least as unpleasant.

Financial provision breathing down our necks

By now there is an accustomed amount of income and the question arises how best to use it and invest it for the future:

  • Which investments are worthwhile?
  • How much money do I want to spend on enjoyment in everyday life?
  • For which larger desires do I want to save?

The family planning clock is ticking

Those whose health allows them to do so decide whether starting a family is in their life plan and have to make other serious decisions in this context, such as the extent to which family and working life are compatible in their current job or whether a change of residence is worthwhile.

City kid or country bumpkin

After various residential experiences during studies and career entry, the question of permanent residence arises in the course of family planning or perhaps in connection with care responsibilities for other relatives. I have rarely heard of a 100 per cent solution here.

Role reversal

The fact that one’s own parents or relatives of older generations need support in everyday life becomes an issue for many people in their 30s for the first time. The topics of death and mourning also become more central to their own experiences.

Health and fitness

Illnesses or injuries often play a stronger role for the first time in the 30s, also in relation to one’s own body. Physical resilience and the ability to regenerate decrease, and this realisation needs to be dealt with.

Perhaps the phase I observe can be described as follows: While we are in exploration mode and highly motivated when we try out many things for the first time in our 20s, we have to do so again quite involuntarily in this phase of life, feeling great respect and at the same time having to make a bunch of difficult decisions that not only affect us, but also those close to us.

What does that mean for people in organisations?

You can find the whole thing interesting in your private life or not. But I am writing this text as a blog post for people in organisations. Why?

I believe it is important for inclusive organisations to deal with the life phases in which their employees find themselves:

  1. To, quite banally, not unintentionally discriminate against anyone by creating jobs that exclude people with life issues above.
  2. To be able to shape interpersonal interactions and teamwork attentively and thus strengthen team feelings.
  3. In order to be able to actually align benefits with needs in the sense of employer branding.



For some time now, I have been observing the challenges of people in their 30s and believe that these also have an impact on everyday work and should be taken into account. If I may make a call, it would be to initiate more conversations at work with colleagues about where they are in their “life” and what needs arise as a result. As always, more understanding helps to work better together.



If you want to improve cooperation in your organisation, Jenny Pfeifer is a very good contact person. Here you will find a felicitous overview in German of what Chili and Change can do for you.

1] GEO: Krise in der Lebensmitte: Wie der Aufbruch gelingen kann
[2] Pubmed: Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle?

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Jenny Pfeifer has published another post on the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: The variety of shared leadership

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Jenny Pfeifer

Jenny Pfeifer

Jenny Pfeifer studied human resources development and communication management in her Master’s degree and then found her way into the world of agile collaboration. She has several years of experience as an Agile Coaches in the IT industry and holds various certificates in Scrum and SAFe. She now works as a change consultant and leadership trainer at the consultancy Chili and Change.

In her daily work, she supports teams, companies and managers on the path to modern collaboration and shared leadership. She draws her motivation from moments of enlightenment for herself and her clients on how to shape the working world of today.