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One in four employees trapped in “means to an end” jobs

Almost one in four (24%) adults in the UK are unhappy at work.

Age and a lack of confidence are stopping them from making a career change, according to a poll commissioned by one of the UK’s largest independent higher education institutions and feel trapped in means to an end jobs.


  • Nearly a quarter of adults say they are not happy at work
  • Lack of skills and age cited as key barriers to progression
  • 41% of under 34s say their age stops them pursuing a new career

The GSM London survey questioned 1,000 UK adults in full and part-time employment on how they feel about their working lives and if they feel trapped in their jobs. It found that four in ten see their job as “a means to an end”, and revealed vast differences in work satisfaction based on whether respondents view their employment as a job or a career:

  • Three quarters (72%) of people define their current working situation as a job, compared to 28% who say they have a career
  • Thirty percent of people with a ‘job’  say they are unhappy at work, against just 11% of people with a ‘career’
  • Fifty-four percent of people with a ‘job’ see it as a means to an end, versus just 10% of those with a  ‘career’
  • Just one in five people with a ‘career’ feel that they are making good use of their qualifications, with the number dropping to 10% for those who see their work as a job.

Surprisingly, the way people see their work situation varies very little with age, though there is a noticeable increase in the number who say they have a career between the ages of 25-34. At this point, for both men and women, the percentage of people viewing themselves as having a career jumps from a national average of 29% to 44%.

However, despite this temporary improvement in career progression and satisfaction, 41% of employees believe they are too old to make a change by the time they turn 34. Alongside age, family commitments (22%), the pressure of uncertainty (22%), and lack of confidence (21%) are the most common reasons why people do not pursue their dream career and are trapped in their jobs. Lack of adequate qualifications and being too comfortable in their current role were also cited as barriers to career progression by one in five (17%) respondents.

Alex Reid, careers adviser at GSM London, said: “All evidence suggests that people who feel they have fulfilling careers and have high levels of job satisfaction are the most productive employees, so it’s a real concern that so many people appear be unhappy at work. The good news is that the labour market is becoming more fluid, with the idea that people will hold multiple jobs throughout their working lives fast becoming the norm. This means that people have a greater opportunity than ever before to take steps that set them on new career paths.

“A lot of people don’t have the luxury of stepping out of the workforce for extended periods, regardless of how unhappy they are in their jobs or how keen they are to develop new skills. This is why higher education is changing. For instance, GSM London has pioneered accelerated degrees that can be completed in two rather than three years, and are introducing work-based learning programmes. We’ve also invested in a range of careers programmes that help people develop attributes attractive to employers alongside their studies.

“Our insight also suggests that age does not need to be as much of a barrier as our survey suggests people think. Over 80% of our students are mature, and prove to be strong candidates for employers looking to bring people in that combine degree-level skills with rich life experience.

“As our research shows, those with fulfilling careers are much happier than those with jobs, so it’s definitely worth people considering all options for change and overcoming assumptions about the things that might stand in their way.”