Careers have followed the same general format for generations: You get an education, land a job, try to move up the corporate hierarchy, and eventually retire. However, things are about to change, and both individuals and companies will be significantly impacted.
Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott recently wrote a piece in Harvard Business Review that outlined some critical implications of increasing life expectancy. As our life spans increase, so does the time we need to sustain ourselves financially. The average age of retirement in the United States used to be 60 years old just 10 years ago. But today, Americans expect to retire after turning 66 – and this number will likely go even higher in years to come.
Of all babies born in 2007 in the United States, 50 percent are expected to live 104 years or longer. Many of them will not be able to financially sustain themselves for 38 years after leaving the workforce at age 66. Either we need to work longer to save up for that complete retirement most people strive to achieve, or we must redesign the way we live our lives.
While not an easy fix by any means, Gratton and Scott argue for a transformation of our current system into what they call a multistage life where multiple careers, different educations, sabbaticals, and physical locations can succeed each other over and over. With this approach, people can build competencies that are relevant at each given time in their life while allowing the flexibility of adapting to changing interests and physical capabilities along their lifespan. The primary incentive for this model is not motivated by a definitive retirement, but rather a lifelong ambition and willingness to do something productive and interesting.
The Future of Work is Changing Society
The implications of such a shift in our workforce are significant and clearly not something that could be implemented overnight. There is, however, good reason to consider various parts of such a proposal in the context of the general evolution of the workforce and the impact of the digital economy.
The future of work is primarily driven by the rise of the millennials and Generation Z and their desire for high workplace engagement, the ability to pursue personal passions, and the opportunity to make a difference for the greater society. The technological pace driving the rise of the digital worker – the changes we see affecting continuing education, collaboration, instant corporate decision-making, and work itself – allows these generations to take a more personal approach to career planning and influences their day-to-day tasks.
The global gig economy of independent workers and short-term engagements is further helping this trend by enabling people to shape their careers by taking on short-term or part-time jobs that are compatible with their personal preferences.
Three Corporate Challenges for Careers in the Digital Economy
For companies, the challenge to address these changes are threefold:
- Taking a new approach to the role of succession planning. As the integration of the gig economy becomes more common across businesses, there is a need to maintain cultural and managerial continuity. It also means considering how to make the most of a workforce that has a vast amount of experience and that may not retire at all. Simply put, employees and contractors can no longer remain in one particular role if you expect them to stay engaged. Instead, a more holistic project based company ecosystem is in order. This approach enables individual experiences, preferences, and potentially multiple careers of everybody to become possible solutions to any given business challenge, regardless of hierarchical level, age, and tenure. Additionally, resources within the ecosystem are not necessarily confined to full-time employees, but can also include part-time or short-term gigs based on the specific needs. And in the end, this means a better chance of benefiting from employees throughout their working lifespan.
- Encouraging employees to continuously learn and develop themselves. The key here is to go beyond traditional training provided to all employees across a given department and even the entire company. Approximately 50 years ago, John Gardner described the concept of career repotting, which essentially promotes the idea of trying something completely new to get fresh perspectives, different backgrounds, and ideas as a path to creativity and engagement. Fast-forward to today: We are now finding that this concept is more relevant in the digital economy. While many employees drive their own continuing education, companies can make a difference for both their employees and themselves by supporting their passions and self-driven development with clear mutual benefits in terms of higher engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction.
- Managing employees who increasingly self-manage. The hyperconnection and instant access to data are paving the way for an increasing amount of self-organization and distributed decision-making across teams and hierarchies. Plus, companies that can manage this transition are not only becoming digital leaders, but also constantly creating new career opportunities for their ecosystem.
Are we, as individuals, ready to change our mindset on what it means to have a career or many careers? And is it possible for companies to become digital leaders that can benefit from a changing workforce?
It’s all possible.
But first you must assess: What is your company doing to become a digital leader, and what are you doing to help your employees to further their careers in the future?
Learn more about the rise of the digital worker and the future of work. Read the Digitalist’s executive research white paper, “Live Business: The Rise of the Digital Workforce.”
Michael Rander is the global research director for Future Of Work at SAP.