gift of time

The Smart Manager - - Contents -

Lynda Grat­ton and An­drew Scott, Lon­don Busi­ness School, dis­cuss the im­pli­ca­tions of an ex­tended three-stage life.

In The 100-year Life, Lynda Grat­ton and An­drew Scott re­fer to a French fa­ble in which a nymph, On­dine, curses her hus­band Pale­mon: as long as he is awake, he will breathe; as soon as he sleeps, he will die. From that time on he spends ev­ery mo­ment in fran­tic ac­tiv­ity, fear­ing death. Will an ex­tended three-stage life be like this—en­tail­ing con­stant work, bore­dom, and missed op­por­tu­ni­ties—or full of pos­si­bil­i­ties?

For much of hu­man his­tory, life was well de­scribed by Thomas Hobbes’ fa­mous quote as ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ How­ever, con­tin­ued sci­en­tific, eco­nomic, and so­cial progress over the cen­turies has raised liv­ing stan­dards and life ex­pectancy. Whilst these ben­e­fits have not been spread equally across coun­tries, or even within coun­tries, in gen­eral, life is now less nasty, less brutish, and certainly less short. The chal­lenge now is to en­sure that this progress con­tin­ues in the face of growing longevity.

Over the last 200 years, best prac­tice life ex­pectancy has in­creased at a near con­stant rate of more than two

years ev­ery decade. In 1900, life ex­pectancy in In­dia was 24 years, com­pared to 49 years in the US. By 1960, the US’s life ex­pectancy had risen to 70 years while In­dia’s had only risen to 41 years; the gap in longevity be­tween these two na­tions was widen­ing. How­ever, as In­dia’s eco­nomic suc­cess picked up, the gap nar­rowed. By 2014, In­dia’s life ex­pectancy was 67 years and the UN de­mo­graphic fore­cast­ers es­ti­mate that this should in­crease at the rate of around two years ev­ery decade. In­dia may start with a lower life ex­pectancy than the US, but it is ris­ing in much the same way. In many coun­tries around the word, the same is true—the 100 year-life is be­com­ing a global phe­nom­e­non.

What does this ex­tend­ing arc of life mean for peo­ple, and how can gov­ern­ment best re­spond? In many coun­tries, the main fo­cus of gov­ern­ments is on deal­ing with age­ing and end-of-life is­sues such as pen­sions and health­care. But longevity is not just about age­ing—it has cru­cial im­pli­ca­tions for all ages. Al­ready peo­ple are mar­ry­ing and hav­ing chil­dren later, cre­at­ing mid-ca­reer breaks, tak­ing time out to ex­plore, build­ing their own busi­nesses, go­ing back to education. This is al­ready lead­ing to a re­def­i­ni­tion of age—how many times have you heard that 70 is the new 60, or 40 the new 30?

work­ing longer

Those who live up to a 100 years have around 100,000 ex­tra pro­duc­tive hours than those who live up to 70. Un­doubt­edly, work will take a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of these ex­tra hours. His­tor­i­cally, low in­ter­est rates and growing longevity are de­stroy­ing the in­ad­e­quate pro­vi­sion so­ci­eties have made for fu­ture pen­sion sup­port. Un­less peo­ple are pre­pared to save more, the in­evitable con­se­quence is they will have to work longer. Sim­ple cal­cu­la­tion sug­gests that given the cur­rent level of house­hold sav­ings in many coun­tries, those aged 20 to­day are likely to be work­ing into their late 70s or even early 80s and those in their mid 40s into their early or mid 70s. We need to cre­ate a world where this is fea­si­ble and ben­e­fi­cial—a way that makes a longer life a bless­ing and not a curse.

the end of the three-stage life

How­ever, this is not just about work­ing longer—the broader chal­lenge is how to re­struc­ture so­cial and work­ing lives to make best use of these ex­tra hours. The life struc­ture that emerged in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury—a three­stage life of education, work and then, re­tire­ment—is un­likely to sur­vive this elon­ga­tion. How can you main­tain and build pro­duc­tive as­sets when most education takes place in your 20s? How can what you have learnt re­main rel­e­vant over the next 60 years against the back­drop of tech­no­log­i­cal up­heaval and in­dus­trial trans­for­ma­tion? There is also the ques­tion of vi­tal­ity. Whilst an un­bro­ken ex­tended work­ing life may solve the fi­nan­cial chal­lenge of longevity, it will in­evitably de­plete other im­por­tant as­sets of life such as health and friend­ships.

In­dia may start with a lower life ex­pectancy than the US, but it is ris­ing in much the same way.

A way around this is a multi-stage life, made up of dif­fer­ent stages with tran­si­tions and breaks in be­tween. In one stage the fo­cus may be on ac­cu­mu­lat­ing fi­nan­cial as­sets, in an­other on cre­at­ing a bet­ter work-life bal­ance. Some­times the switches will be driven by per­sonal choice, at other times forced by tech­no­log­i­cal ob­so­les­cence. These multi-stage lives re­quire a pro­fi­ciency in man­ag­ing tran­si­tions and re­flex­iv­ity—imag­in­ing pos­si­ble selves, think­ing about the fu­ture, re-skilling, and build­ing new and di­verse net­works. At its best, it of­fers peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore who they are and ar­rive at a way of liv­ing that is nearer to their own per­sonal values. Might it be this growing re­al­iza­tion of longevity that is be­hind many of the of­ten-stated claims about how ‘mil­len­ni­als have dif­fer­ent values and at­ti­tudes to­wards pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions?

the end of age seg­men­ta­tion

Take a look around most work­places and you will see clear signs of ‘age seg­men­ta­tion’—peo­ple within the same age group spend most of their work­ing day with each other. The clear-cut three stages in­ad­ver­tently strengthen the bound­aries be­tween age groups. If you are 20, then you are likely to be in col­lege; in your 30s, you are prob­a­bly work­ing full-time; and at 65, you will be re­tired.

There are a few ad­van­tages of age seg­men­ta­tion, and many dis­ad­van­tages. When peo­ple mainly in­ter­act with their own age group they tend to stereo­type other ages— they sim­ply do not see the va­ri­ety within other age groups and in­stead use sim­ple con­cepts to de­scribe them. They also fail to de­velop cross-gen­er­a­tional friend­ships that can be such a source of knowl­edge and sup­port.

But this will change and it is likely to change first at work.

Peo­ple try out new ways of liv­ing and work­ing—be it build­ing their own busi­ness, ex­plor­ing, or cre­at­ing a port­fo­lio of tasks and ac­tiv­i­ties. These new stages will be ‘age ag­nos­tic’. Right now, it is mainly young­sters who are tak­ing time to ex­plore through their ‘gap year’, but rapidly it will be other age groups—40-year-olds tak­ing time to re­cu­per­ate, 50-year-olds learn­ing a new skill, 60-year-olds trav­el­ling the world, 70-year-olds go­ing back to full­time education. Sim­i­larly, peo­ple of any work­ing age will build their own busi­ness, or cre­ate a port­fo­lio. And as peo­ple of many ages en­gage in the same ac­tiv­ity the ben­e­fits of be­ing ‘age ag­nos­tic’ will be re­ally felt. It is hard to stereo­type what a 70-year-old is like when you are trav­el­ling with them ex­plor­ing the world, or what a 20-year-old is like when you are build­ing a busi­ness with them.

This dis­solv­ing of stereo­typ­ing is all for the good, but there is more. Dif­fer­ent ages in­evitably have their own unique pro­file of in­sights and ex­pe­ri­ences. When they be­gin to meet each other as equals, this knowl­edge is more likely to flow be­tween them to the ad­van­tage of ev­ery­one. Break­ing the si­los of age will hap­pen fast and it will be good for ev­ery­one. ■

Dif­fer­ent ages in­evitably have their own unique pro­file of in­sights and ex­pe­ri­ences.



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