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World's first midlife crisis

The concept of a midlife crisis was born at Brunel in1965, as the founder of the School of Social Sciences Professor Elliott Jaques pursued formative ideas around using social systems as a defence against unconscious anxiety and, later, measuring how much responsibility an employee has.

Applying theories of psychology to the structure of the workplace - a business's management, for instance - Prof Jaques maintained that an organisation's breakdown was more to do with the systems it functioned under, rather than its employees. Any declines in employee productivity, he found, was due to what he coined "time span autonomy", in which an organisation's hierarchy determined how much time an employee had to reach their full potential. Prof Jaques also used this "time span" theory to measure employees' capabilities, matching the value of a job in order to set fair rates of pay. Prof Jaques challenged attitudes, believing that for organisations to succeed, only a few people should retain leadership roles. Undistracted by human resource fads or leadership gurus, he continued to develop his concepts in "real" organisations. His intention was to create structures that allowed employees to work together effectively. While he was aware that quantifying worker capabilities raised social and ethical questions, he argued that his organisational structure made more sense than one layered with managers who had no real authority.

Although ignored by many academics, his ideas are widely used by consultancies and organisations across the world. A classic example is his introduction of the concept of Corporate Culture in his Harvard PhD paper. 

A later paper, Death and The Midlife Crisis, appeared in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis in 1965, and remains a standard psychology text today. In it, Prof Jaques examined the careers of creative geniuses, from composers to artists, concluding that each demonstrated an abrupt change in style or a decline in productivity at or close to the age of 35 years old.

While his theories were often met with criticism, his early ideas are still considered highly influential in the psychoanalytic study of organisations across the globe.