Stuck In A Job You Don't Want? UK Workers Have Entered The 'Great Career Depression'

When you hear the word ‘work’, do you feel a little, well, meh? Perhaps it conjures up endless to-do lists that spark little-to-zero joy, or you recall the back-to-back meetings that you’ll undoubtedly want to fall asleep in. 

Whatever it is, the truth is very few of us are in our dream jobs, according to new research from Arden University, which found just one in four people consider themselves to be in their ideal career.

Its new study revealed most of us are going through the motions of what it dubbed a ‘Great Career Depression’, with two-fifths of the population (38%) wishing they were more successful.

So, what’s causing this crisis?

Dr Sophie Ward, deputy head of the School for Psychology at Arden University, said: “With only a quarter working in their ideal career, we can’t help but ponder if the constant levels of instability across the nation have created an impending confidence crisis in the jobs market.”

She pointed out that following the global Covid-19 pandemic, many have faced uncertainty about their future careers. 

“Since then [people], particularly those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, have been hit hard by the cost-of-living crisis, resulting in many having to put their career aspirations on hold,” she said.

In the UK, the labour market has remained stagnant, with unemployment bobbing around the 4.2% mark.

And job satisfaction isn’t at an all-time high, either. According to research carried out by 1st Formations, more than one in 10 UK adults have no confidence in the leadership of their company, feeling that they cause more harm than good.

The latest annual Good Work Index from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that while most people feel positively towards their work, 20–30% report negatively on some major aspects of their job.

The report suggested “that around 6–9 million of a workforce of 32 million people have a poor experience of work in some respects” and that, in some ways, job quality has regressed since the pandemic despite a reportedly “resilient” workforce.

It also found enriching jobs are becoming less prevalent, so it’s perhaps no wonder people are feeling less than enthused about work.

“Being in a job that resonates with our values and beliefs promotes a sense of purpose and meaning, which enhances our overall well-being and happiness,” said Dr Ward. 

Why aren’t people chasing the dream?

Arden University’s research cites the top three reasons why people haven’t pursued their dream job. These include: not having the right qualifications (26%), not having the right experience (26%), and feeling like they are too old to change careers (22%).

“We need people to realise that it’s never too late to try to work towards their personal goals and aspirations and that there are a range of options available to them,” said Dr Ward.

Healthy aspirations have been proven to help social mobility, as well as personal wellbeing, added the psychology expert. And for many of us, working towards a dream job serves our purpose and drive, leading us towards a greater sense of achievement.

“But, of course, for some, it’s not as simple, and life can get in the way. Many of us fall into a job because of financial obligations, which can result in our dreams being put on pause,” she added.

On top of that, we might doubt our abilities to do well in another – more coveted – role. “Feelings of self-doubt and imposter syndrome are common amongst adults who are wishing to make a career change,” Dr Ward noted.

“In such cases, an individual may be feeling unchallenged or unfulfilled in their current role, but the thought of changing careers later in life can be daunting and lead to feelings of panic.”

She advised those in this position to adopt a “growth mindset” – with a focus on developing and honing your skills – as this can help you to continue accomplishing personal achievements and career goals throughout your life, “but also unlocks a new sense of purpose and resiliency in what is currently an ever-changing labour market”.