When we hear “The Future of Work”, we generally think of a high-tech world crowded by robots and powered by AI. Perhaps. But this sort of thinking ignores some of the wider trends happening around us in the world of work, including longer lives.
By 2056, the 2015 Intergenerational Report projects life expectancy at birth to be 95.1 years for men and 96.6 years for women. Compared with 91.5 and 93.6 years today. What does this mean for the workplace? Equally, what are the implications for planning our working lives?
Longer lives & today’s workplace
Much has been written about the challenges for older people to gain and retain employment in today’s workplace. And whilst there are organisations embracing the older worker, by and large, employment past 60 or 65 becomes increasingly difficult.
“If ageism is rampant anywhere, it’s in the corporate world. We know that it’s very difficult for older people to get another job if they’ve lost their job in their 50s and 60s…It’s extremely difficult for them to find retraining that is meaningful, to engage in a new industry…That’s where the corporate world really has to be more accountable. We’ve done it with gender…”
Longer lives & HR
Our longer working lives require HR leaders to re-imagine and re-create ways of working that are sustainable for employees in the long term. The challenge is that there are no existing models for doing this. Why? Because lives are longer today than at any other time in history. Consequently, HR leaders have an opportunity to work creatively with employees to discover and implement new ways of working.
For example, the new world of work could involve:
- People not starting full-time work until age 40 to allow more time to educate and care for young children;
- Age-inclusive recruitment and training policies and procedures that seek to hire and keep people in their 60s and beyond;
- Creating an environment that enables job-sharing, including intergenerational job sharing;
- Flexible work practices that facilitate and encourage people to take sabbaticals or gap years from time to time – at all ages and stages of life;
- Training and education leave or benefits to encourage lifelong learning. It’s predicted that we’ll have up to 17 employers and 5 careers on top of constant workplace technological change and disruption in our lifetime.
An age friendly Future of Work
Ultimately, the research shows that all workers, regardless of age, are all looking for the same things in their careers: flexibility, autonomy, respect and recognition, and having purpose. With this in mind, here are 3 steps your HR team can take now to create sustainable and age-friendly work practices for workers of all ages:
1. Increase flexibility
Acknowledge that everyone needs time out for rest, leisure, looking after their health and caring for their loved ones. One Australian company has gone as far as introducing unlimited paid leave to great acclaim.
2. Adopt ‘agile’ HR practices
HR teams will need to rely on the four key tenets of agile: responsiveness to employee needs through efficient feedback systems; experimentation with new models, policies and practices; validated learning through minimum viable policies and practices followed by iterations; and, finally, trust and collaboration with line managers and teams. You can see more on agile HR here.
3. Commit to cultural change
Develop a culture amongst the leadership team, employees, suppliers, partners, and customers that embraces the contributions of workers across all ages, including valuing a supportive multigenerational work environment. Beyond the tremendous positive effects this will have on worker morale and productivity, such a culture will facilitate the development of innovative products and services that meet the needs of 21st Century demographic realities.
Dr Catherine Rickwood stated in her recent Canberra TEDx talk:
“Longer lives are a gift we’ve all been given. Regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality or ability. Age spans all diversity and inclusion issues.”
An age-friendly workplace will create the foundations for an inclusive, cohesive, and productive workforce for decades to come.
Catherine Rickwood is committed to changing the cultural conversation about becoming older. We specialize in working with organisations to develop age-inclusive business strategies – across both HR and marketing, including product design and development. To learn more, visit our website or connect with us via LinkedIn or Twitter. Or speak with us today.
*Helen Barrie is Research Fellow & Deputy Director, Hugo Centre for Migration and Population Research, University of Adelaide
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