A plan for life

If you knew that you were going to live to be 100 years old, how would you structure your life?

That’s the intriguing question behind the book The 100-Year-Life by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, professors of management practice and economics, respectively, at London Business School.

It is a pressing question as the book suggests that a child born in the West today has a more than 50 per cent chance of living even longer than that, to 105. Even today’s 20-year-olds have a 50% chance of reaching 100.

In the modern era, we have all structured our lives the same way, in three stages: childhood, work and then retirement.

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That made sense when people were lucky to live to 70 or 75, the authors say, but when you have an extra 25 or 30 years to fill, it is no longer adequate. That middle stage, of work, cannot stretch to 60 or even 70 years, although that might make financial sense. It would be “too hard, too exhausting and, quite frankly, too boring”.

Gratton and Scott argue that, instead, life will become “multi-staged”.

People will reinvent themselves professionally twice or even three times, not just working for different companies or in different sectors, but switching modes of work too: working for themselves, working for others, or working in hubs or “creative clusters”.

Lifelong learning

Because the skills you learn in your late teens and early 20s are unlikely to still be relevant half a century later, given the pace of technological change, people will have to retrain often. Taking career breaks for education, for example, will become the norm – at any age.

People will also drop out of the workplace occasionally to refresh themselves – think of gap years in your 40s or 60s - although we might sacrifice some leisure time in order to invest in our skills, and facilitate professional changes of direction.

We will have to learn to manage transitions more comfortably, because they will take place more often. People will have to be more flexible, more open to new ways of thinking, more adept at keeping their options open and more fluid about building and changing social and professional networks.

One interesting effect Gratton and Scott predict is that generations will be less isolated, as our career and education paths become less linear, and “age” and “stage of life” no longer mean the same thing. So if someone tells you that they are pursuing an undergraduate degree, it will no longer be clear how old they are.

On the other hand, the authors argue that the young will choose to extend their adult educational years so that they don’t close down their options too early. They will spend their 20s and even some of their 30s simply gathering experiences and skills rather than committing to any particular career path or workplace.

All this, naturally, has immense implications for the way we manage and save our money, including how we finance our saving for retirement (our pensions). It also will transform workplace culture and the way that companies structure, communicate and segment thier employee benefits strategy. I’ll go into that in more depth in my next couple of blogs.

Learning from the young

But in the meanwhile, one closing thought.

You may have read all that and thought, “that sounds familiar”. Because the truth is that many of the things Gratton and Scott predict are already happening with the millennials.

HR departments and business owners worry that this younger generation do not expect to stay in the same company for long and show little loyalty. Their preference for flexible conditions, including the option to work from home and knock off early, and innate “laid-back-ness” has earned them a reputation for being unfocused.

This has been very difficult for many companies to deal with and has fuelled much suspicion and derision. (If you haven’t watched Simon Sinek’s infamous rant yet, this is what I’m talking about.)

But if you buy into Gratton and Scott’s thesis, these millennials are behaving exactly as one might expect, given that statistically, many of them really can expect to live a 100-year life.

They are not going to change or “grow up” – they are behaving rationally.

With all these possible demographic changes, it will be up to employers to adjust.


Posted by Steve Butler

Topics: Savings And Lifestyle

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