August 17, 2018 | By


Much of life over the past century conformed to the three-stage model of study, work, retire. It’s a model that was predicated on reasonably high levels of stability, both in the skills required in the workplace and also the labor market itself. Training in one field and then having one or two employers for the majority of your working life was commonplace, but it’s a model that is increasingly being challenged.

Rapidly changing technologies have rendered the shelf-life of skills shorter than ever before, while medical advances mean that the majority of children born today will live to 100 years of age. This longevity will cause ruptures in the three-stage model that dominates the Western world and predicate a transition towards a more multi-stage life that will see working, learning and resting blend into one.

There are 168 hours in a week – across a 70-year lifespan that’s 611,000 hours; across a 100-year lifespan that’s 873,000 hours.

It’s a topic London Business School’s Lynda Gratton covers thoroughly in her latest book, appropriately called The 100 Year Life. It is only through fundamentally changing what life looks like will we avoid Ondine’s Curse of a long, yet a brutish life of continual toil and hardship. Gratton urges us to think of the future in terms of time.


“There are 168 hours in a week – across a 70-year lifespan that’s 611,000 hours; across a 100-year lifespan that’s 873,000 hours. How will you allocate this extra time? What will you do? How will you sequence stages and activities?” she asks.

Implications for business

It’s a trend that will have consequences for us as individuals but also for organizations that hope to attract the talent they need to thrive. It will force a fundamental reassessment of what great employee experiences are as the workforce cultivates their life differently. It’s a trend that we are already seeing glimpses of with the rise of the gig economy and digital nomads who are happy blending work and life like never before. They flit from career to career, sometimes even country to country in the hope of striking that ideal work/life balance that is so important when we will be working for longer.

The shifting demographics of the Western world is undoubtedly one of the most profound changes affecting the workplace today. In Japan, for instance, the population is predicted to decline from a high of 127 million to 87 million by 2060. What’s more, some 40% of these people will be aged over 65.


While the extent of this demographic transition is not as severe in other Western countries as it is in Japan, the retirement of the baby boomer generation does nonetheless present considerable challenges to organizations looking to ensure they have the skills they require to thrive.

Here are some core challenges that organizations will face as we enter this era of enhanced longevity.

  • Managing mature workers – The last few years have seen a deluge of stories about machines taking our jobs, but as the baby boomer generation enters retirement, a more realistic concern is that there will be too few workers for the jobs available. The ability to manage an aging workforce will be crucial if companies are to avoid significant disruption to their business.
  • Flexible working – Workplaces have gradually been becoming more flexible as the appreciation that people value autonomy over how, where and when they work has taken hold, but this trend is going to accelerate in the 100-year life. It is “a way of living that is more flexible and more responsive – a multistage life with a variety of careers, with breaks and transitions. In fact, we believe this is the only way to make a long life a gift,” the authors write.
  • A multi-generational workforce – As young people become less focused on their careers, it will require a fresh employee experience to attract them. Alongside this will need to be new policies for older workers. “Organizations need a model where the energy of youth interacts with the wisdom of people who have worked for many years,” Gratton said. “Young people should have the opportunity to spend time with and access the expertise of, their elder colleagues.
  • A world of options – When we replace a three-stage life with one of seven or eight stages, the number of ways we can craft our life open up before us. In economics, the value of the options before us is largely dependent upon their duration and volatility. In a careers sense, it’s likely to yield a tremendous amount of flux as new technologies create jobs we cannot dream of today. This makes it more logical for people to keep their options open as long as possible to retain flexibility.
  • Learning how to learn – It’s increasingly common for employers to hire for attitude rather than specific skills, and this will be increasingly so in the coming years. Courses like the University of California, San Diego’s popular Learning How To Learn will become vital as organizations attempt to equip employees with the skills required to adapt to changes in their environment. It’s also likely that we’ll see a growing emphasis placed on qualities of personal resilience, including plasticity, flexibility and a willingness to try new things.
  • A less rigid path – Even today, it is relatively easy to predict someone’s rank, title, salary, and incentives by knowing their age and gender. It suggests a structure that is primarily imposed by our employers based upon the traditional three-stage model. This is likely to be flipped upside down, however, and it’s essential that organizations understand this and how it will impact how they recruit, promote and reward employees.

It all points to a burgeoning conflict between workers and employers who may have very different ideas about what is desirable. As scarce talent is likely to become even scarcer in future, it’s a comprehension gap that organizations need to cross.

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