Our lives are getting longer. According to research by the ONS, the typical life expectancy is around 80 years old, and although the rate of increase in life expectancy is slowing, it is expected to rise over time. Changes to our lifestyles, improvements to our environments and advances in healthcare and medical research are enabling us to live longer.
It is predicted that for children born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, life expectancy could be 100 years or more1. This means our working lives are likely to get longer. We are fitter and healthier than our parents, and the idea of retiring in our early to mid-60s can feel too early - physically and mentally.
For many, financial limitations will also necessitate working longer. Statutory pensions won’t fund our lifestyles and many people are joining workplace pensions too late so can’t save enough. For Generation X, we’ve seen statutory pension dates pushed back and retirement ages extended until they were officially removed through the Equality Act 2010’s statements on age discrimination. So now, we can work forever. Yippee!
In their book, ‘The 100-year life: Living and working in an age of longevity,’ Gratton and Scott highlight some of the challenges - or opportunities - that an extended life can present. Let’s look at how organisations can encourage engagement at work in response to these.
We will have older workers
We’re much more likely to now have workers in their 70s and 80s; maybe even beyond. To maintain their engagement at work, we may need to think about:
- Flexible working arrangements. Allowing them to balance work and time out for hobbies, health and other interests.
- Wellbeing programmes. Helping them to stay healthy at work; healthy eating and snacking, opportunities to exercise, and ways to manage stress will benefit all workers.
- Flexible benefits. Enabling employees to make choices about how their reward package is compiled. For example, choosing to pay more in to a pension, or re-routing some salary to private health, hobbies, or shopping vouchers.
- Upward (or reverse) mentoring. Encouraging younger generations to mentor older workers, enabling learning and development for both.
We will stay younger for longer
‘Middle-age’ hits at a very different time in the 100-year life. It’s not in our late 30s anymore; instead mid-life is hitting in our 50s. Apart from that, lifestyle, health and finances mean we can live full lives, feeling younger, for longer. Employers should consider offering:
- Stay interviews. The opposite of an exit interview; a stay interview will help you find out what people need to encourage them to stay and develop with your business. As well as demonstrating how much you value someone, they can encourage people to consider development, career moves, sabbaticals, etc.
- Career agility. Offering opportunities for people to learn and develop, to career change or to take career breaks will encourage ‘younger’ workers, regardless of age, to reshape their options with their current employer.
Jobs will change and the skills we need will be different
Today’s jobs certainly didn’t exist when I left school - digital, customer success, blogger, business partner, social media specialist. These are all new terms that have evolved with business and technology changes. And many more traditional roles could disappear with the development of AI and robotization. This means we need to:
- Provide development opportunities. Encouraging employees to attend external conferences and training.
- Offer career conversations to everyone. Equip managers to lead these conversations and encourage the movement of talent throughout the organisation.
- Use mentoring, coaching and external work placements. Help employees develop knowledge, skills and external perspectives.
In a 100-year life we’re likely to experience more life stages than just childhood, working life and retirement. People will experiment more and keep their options open - it could lead to mid-career changes, late education, career breaks, being self-employed or running your own business. To maintain engagement through these various stages we should:
- Enable flexible working arrangements. Allow people to make choices about how work fits into their life, rather than the other way round. Remote working, flexible hours, virtual teams can all enable this flexibility. Many organisations limit this type of flexibility to those who request it on family grounds, but these options can be opened up to anyone who prefers flexibility of when, where and how they work.
It’s possible that we’re not financially prepared for a 100-year life, as pensions, savings and investments may not have considered a potential retirement of 30+ years. As a result, financial planning will matter to employees, who now have to consider either making up a shortfall, or long term planning for a longer future. Employers should consider:
- Offering financial education. This has gained momentum over the last few years, and financial wellbeing support is becoming a valuable benefit for many employees who can find it stressful. However, it’s an area where employers need to be considerate and cautious about what support they provide and how.
- Offering pre-retirement training programmes. This can help employees to prepare mentally and financially for retirement.
Transition will be the new normal
During this longer life, people will experience more change - they may even encourage, embrace and enjoy it. People don’t typically dislike change, they just don’t like having it done to them. So to keep people engaged through change, personal or business, you could:
- Provide training and information. Training about ‘experiencing change’ will help people know what to expect, how to prepare, and how to manage during transition.
- Provide an employee assistance programme. An EAP offers people an independent ear when they are struggling with change.
- Involve people in workplace change. Find ways to hear and incorporate ideas ‘from the floor’.
This isn’t just an issue for the future. Our 100-year life is in progress, so taking a proactive approach in supporting employees through the various stages, challenges and opportunities will help to engage employees, encourage retention and add value to your employer brand.
Next time, we’ll be recommending some great TED Talks that you can tune into to engage you, your people managers and your teams.
- Gratton, L., & Scott, A. (2016). The 100-year life: Living and working in an age of longevity. Bloomsbury Publishing.