over 50 career

50 year old “Corporate Toast”: the silent career trend we all know about but don’t talk about…and what to do about it.

“The whole truth is that 50+ year olds are an endangered species in big corporates.”

I’ve written hundreds of articles on how to design more satisfying midlife careers but I realised recently that I’ve made a mistake.  

I haven’t made it crystal clear why professionals in their 40s and 50s NEED to start taking action if they’d like to continue working beyond their next few birthdays.  

This mistake became very clear when one of my clients asked my opinion on career options post-50 within big corporates. 

I drew breath before responding

“If you are in your 50s in a big corporate, get ready to be toast!” 

Not my most eloquent moment but a characteristically truthful one, nonetheless.

After nearly 20 years of watching silently as big corporates did everything in their power to recruit “high potentials” whilst at the same time doing everything in their power to negotiate quietly with the 50+ contingent to leave, it felt exhilarating to say out loud what I knew to be the truth. 

That whole truth is that 50+ year olds are an endangered species in big corporates. 

Ageism has simply not been tackled by big corporations, in organisations. The only people who would tackle it are of a similar age and this would do nothing but highlight their vulnerability.

These endangered 50+ year olds are usually positioned in general leadership and/or very specialist roles where they have been shrunk-to-fit. Both positions are extremely time-limited.  

No matter how “high potential” you were considered in your 20s and 30s, if you are facing or have already faced the “BIG 5-0” birthday within a big corporation…your days are numbered.

4 varieties of 50 year old corporate toast

4 varieties of 50 year old corporate toast

Continuing the corporate toast analogy, in my experience, there are four dominant varieties of 50 year old “Corporate Toast”:  

  1. The “Golden-toasted” variety:

The luckiest of these rare creatures have amassed a pension fortune for when they decide that they’ve been perfectly toasted. They can press their own eject button at any time if the company starts to turn up the heat setting. They have almost full control of the toaster.

This allows for a speedy and relatively burn-free exit as long as they are self-aware enough to pop themselves out before the company does - ego and identity intact.

2. The “Almost-toasted” variety:

These self-aware leaders have their fingers crossed that they’ll be able to keep working until their pre-determined point when they can afford to release themselves. There are two different pairs of hands on the eject button so anyone could press it at any time.

These “almost-toasted” varieties hope to have enough time to leave the toaster with a lovely glow (ego and identity pretty much intact) and a bag of either pension/redundancy/exit treasure.

While all fingers are crossed for a hopeful lucrative exit, their impact on the business is very slowly declining - making the eject button ever-more attractive.

3. The “I’m-in-the-wrong toaster” variety:

These leaders have a long-term focus and often enjoy work for its own sake. They are clear that their future lies in smaller businesses (or their own business) and have already begun to think through options and perhaps even test those options out.

They have always been great at serious networking and taking actions so that it won’t be a shock when their toaster’s heat setting is turned up. They fully understand the toasting game.

Often they very proactively position themselves for their future, long-term career and many have job offers before the toaster pops them out so that there is a neutral impact on ego and identity.

Many forgo possible redundancy packages as the long-term benefit of 10+ extra years of an enjoyable career (almost) on their terms is so attractive. Time on the golf course is not their goal.

4. The “Almost-burned” variety:

The trickiest situation is that held by the 50+ leaders who are keeping their heads down so that they can continue to be amazing at what they do for as long as they can. The short-term looks fabulous, doesn’t it?

They feel valuable and valued. They enjoy work but have no time to have a serious look beyond the toaster to see what’s happening. They haven't had time for networking, don’t have relationships with executive search businesses because they haven’t needed them.

But someone else is controlling their career toaster setting and has been turning up the heat without their knowledge.

When this variety of toast burns, it will scar deeply and will take a great deal of time, effort and support to recover from. Ego and identity will be bruised for years to come.

If you’re in the Almost-burned category, what you just read will hurt like hell.

I’m sorry.

I write this article not to instil fear but to highlight the necessary CHOICE element in our midlife careers. 

I feel so strongly that we, as individuals, cannot change the realities of the corporate world today. But we can start to change the realities of our personal career situation today. 

We can choose to either accept our special variety of toast, to change to a different variety of toast, to swap our toaster or to design our own toaster.

If you are planning to retire in your early 50s to your yacht to sail the Caribbean, I have nothing to offer you…I make a great Negroni though!  

However, if you are in any of the other toaster situations please consider taking a long, hard look at your career longevity and work enjoyment from a different angle.  

In my humble opinion (based on insights gained from over 1500 leadership interviews over the last 10 years plus intensive psychological research into the ingredients of a fulfilling career), taking time to evaluate how you could purposefully redesign your career to fulfil more of your life goals is time well spent.  

Choose not to be toast. 

Choose to let your midlife become the jam years in your career.

Here’s my personal story of how I chose not to let myself be toasted by a corporate career.

If you’re not sure where to start, download this free guide that will give you my recommended first steps to taking control of your career.  

If you need help getting started, sign up to the You’re not too old and it’s not too late career change newsletter and download my free Beginner’s Guide to Successful Career Change in your 40s and 50s - Where to Start eBook.

If you’re ready to start designing your way out of your toaster, book in for a 30min (Free) Light and the end of my tunnel conversation with me now, to kick-start your happier career.