What happens to work when people live for a hundred years? This question may seem incredibly future-focused, however it’s happening faster than you think. Indeed, 50% of babies born today in the UK will live to 103 and this increases to 107 for Japan. And it’s not just newborns that are likely to be centurions. If you are 60 and have not suffered any serious health concerns, you are well positioned to reach the big 100. For the world of business, the interesting question is what these demographic trends mean for the world of work.
To answer this question I’ve teamed up with my London Business School colleague, Andrew Scott. We are both fascinated by the hundred year life and are combining his mastery of economics with my expertise in psychology. We began our research by testing out the current three stage life model of education, employment and retirement and found it to be breaking under the strain of longevity. Not only are older members of society finding themselves needing or wanting to work past traditional retirement ages, but people of all age groups are having to adjust their progression plans and working styles to ensure they have the right skills and requisite energy levels for long careers.
As is often the case, individuals are adapting to the trend much faster than organisations and institutions, and we’re beginning to see experimentation at the level of the individual. At the level of government and businesses, we’re seeing less experimentation. For example, more young people are embarking on explorer phases and trialling different professions before getting started on the career ladder. Yet, companies are holding on to traditional recruitment approaches that rely on graduates straight from university. Our research has revealed that organisations are doing worryingly little to prepare for the hundred-year life, and may be faced with the consequences sooner rather than later. So, where can we find the answer?
My research combined with many years of experience with multinationals points directly to HR. The future of this function will lie in anticipating demographic trends and modeling the impact they will have on the workforce. (The data and tools are already available, and it is now simply a case of using them.) HR will need to translate these trends into new approaches to long-standing practices such as recruitment, training and development, and remuneration. It will also need to develop new initiatives that help people sequence their careers and take time to rest and recuperate. This is where I believe HR will really make its mark on corporate strategy – as guardians of the future of work.
My research team at the Future of Work Research Consortium has been investigating this trend for over a year, and we have produced some incredible projections for the hundred-year life. We are now taking the logical next step and asking what HR professionals will need to do differently in this new era to future proof their organisations.