I have just finished reading a book entitled "The 100 Year Life" by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott (Bloomsbury). It's one of those rare books that casts a light on what's happening in society, in a way that seems rather obvious - yet no-one else seems to have written about it!
The central thesis is that a child born in the West today has a more than 50 percent chance of living to 105 years of age; consequently, the traditional three-stage approach to life (education, work, retirement) is becoming untenable. The argument goes that, with rising life expectancy, it is no longer possible to base one's whole career on a few short years in college, or to maintain relationships and vitality through the course of a demanding 50 or 60 year career, or to save enough for a really long retirement.
The answer, it is suggested, is to restructure the traditional pattern of life to a multi-stage approach, with different periods devoted to work, re-education, family, relationships and so on. Some of these periods might repeat several times over the course of a lifetime, so "transitional skills" - the ability to move effectively between the different stages - will also become increasingly important. The book argues that it will be possible to live a fulfilling 100 year life by adopting the multi-stage approach.
I found the arguments quite compelling, but what about the challenges this will present to business? Most business owners want their business to continue for the long term, yet how to respond when faced with a workforce which is itself adapting to the demands of the 100 year life by transitioning in and out of careers on a fairly regular basis?
As individuals respond to the demands and opportunities offered by increased longevity, so businesses will have to respond too. Perhaps they will offer more sabbaticals, more flexible ways of working, or more educational opportunities. What will be the benefits and challenges of building teams with a broader age spread? What happens when employees no longer retire at any particular age (or at all?). What's the right balance between salary and pension benefits?
Larger businesses may be better positioned to adapt, as the impact of changing working patterns is often most keenly felt by smaller businesses with more limited resources. Change is coming to all of us though - that much is for sure.