The 100-year life

July 2, 2021

You receive a job application for an accountant from a well-qualified, experienced candidate.

However, for the past three years, she has been traveling on another continent and running a small online copywriting business.

Would you take her application seriously?

Chances are, you’d wonder about her commitment and she would be unlikely to make your shortlist.

But in future, that may have to change. As we live for longer, it will become much more normal for individuals to take time out of their careers – and we’ll have to welcome that.

That’s the argument made in an intriguing book, The 100-Year-Life – Living and Working in An Age of Longevity by Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton. (Amazon US / Amazon UK)

I’ve been thinking about this recently for two reasons.

First, as we celebrate Kreston’s 50th anniversary, I’ve inevitably spent a lot of time looking into our history and considering how dramatically the business world and the workplace have changed over that period.

But that has also made me look forward, thinking about how these things will look in another 50 years and what trends we can already discern.

Second, I keep returning to the discussion I had with Kreston’s HR leaders, which I reported on in my last email.

Across the world, they seemed to find attracting and retaining good people to be a challenge – echoing the message I hear regularly from partners as well.

The 100 Year Life suggests some interesting – and potentially difficult – answers.

The authors point out that in many countries, children born today are more likely than not to live a full century. And that means that the entire structure of people’s careers is going to change.

A few decades ago, most people’s lives had three clear stages: Childhood, around 40 years of work and then retirement.

But in future, that middle stage may take up 50 or 60 years – or more. So it will be broken up with periods where we return to education, gain more skills, travel and take time out from the workplace to refresh ourselves.

Instead of pursuing a very linear job path, people will be more likely to switch between jobs and even careers, to alternate between employment and entrepreneurship and to demand more flexible working conditions.

Good, attractive employers will accommodate these changing needs, help their staff get the skills and assets they need to manage these transitions easily and work for longer.

This might mean exposing them to different parts of your business, helping them build up their networks, constantly investing in their training and education…

Accepting that there might not be a direct correlation between age, seniority and experience…

Considering candidates who nowadays might be considered “non-conventional”…

…And even helping good people “move on”.

The way people save will also change when they have to fund mid-life gap years, a return to university in their 40s or 50s, and longer periods of retirement or semi-retirement. And that will affect the way you pay them, too.

If all this is making you shudder, I understand. It’s a big mental shift. And for many firms, this will complex to manage.

You may also disagree entirely with Scott and Gratton’s argument and solutions.

But I think it’s a discussion worth having. Like all good predictions, there are already signs of these changes taking place (retirement age is creeping up and millennials’ work patterns are very different to my generation’s).

So how are we going to build workplaces that are fit for the future, so Kreston firms can attract and retain the very best people for the next 50 years?