Even worse, using this model promotes ageism and reduces job prospects for older workers. Business leaders expect that older workers “can’t” perform at the levels needed or will retire at 60-65 years—even though these are knowledge workers who use automation to make meaningful contributions to their employer.
In the post-pandemic era, I find that this makes no business sense. Faced with a shortage of qualified talent, companies experiment with hybrid, virtual and flexible work schedules. We should encourage workers of all ages with valuable skills, drive, experiences and expertise to continue working rather than losing them. We should promote people of all ages based on their contribution value. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, started as a quality inspector on the assembly line and rose through the company by being given new assignments.
What’s worse for “suddenly” retired workers is that they lack plans for how to spend the next 10-30 years (that’s about 10,000 days!) once they leave. The result is an oxymoron: “unretirement.” Increasingly, as Chris Farrell’s book Unretirement demonstrates, retirees want to continue being productive and “quietly return” to work for other companies.
The 21st Century Growth-Focused Holistic Life Model
It’s time to replace the broken model with a growth-focused holistic life model that accepts aging as a natural growth process, starting at birth and ending at death. While some parts of us may slow down, we continue to acquire knowledge, generate wisdom and can contribute to society.
For individuals, the 100+ year life model proposes:
• That, as a leader, you can maximize fulfillment throughout adulthood, not just the retirement years. To do so, you need to cultivate life’s essentials—health, finance, relationships, passion, purpose and time mastery.
• You’re responsible for yourself and should lead intentional (rather than default) lives. The key is planning. To do so, identify the life-long values and goals to achieve as you navigate your life path. Start from the end and work backward using a flexible approach to connect each phase forward to the next.
• You can experience a richer life with multiple careers, families, life-long learning and activities of passion and purpose. You can work as long as you can grow personally and make a meaningful contribution to employees. We deliver our legacy throughout our lifetime, not just at the end.
• The challenges of life are made in present tradeoffs as well as between your present and future self. Planning for your future self usually consists of several “next-selves.” As Bruce Feiler notes, life’s experiences depend on how we master the transitions.
For business, the model generates new opportunities.
• The pandemic unleashed the Great Exploration for workers—how to find better jobs and lifestyles. The model embraces this culture by encouraging unlimited growth opportunities for talent committed to growth and making valued work contributions.
• Companies can attract and keep growth-oriented employees by creating cultures that address the whole person. Career options are no longer limited by jobs workers initially perform as long as they keep learning, take on challenges and contribute to enterprise growth. Offer flexible programs for people who want hybrid locations and time to attend to family, lifestyle and future self needs. Consider new options, including extended time-off periods, such as sabbaticals when employees refresh and rewire.
• Use growth-focused (and ageism-rejecting) practices to retain older workers and attract new ones. Open programs to develop soft and hard skills for people of all ages so everyone can elevate their contributions. Why let them take skills, expertise, insights and wisdom elsewhere?
• Organizations can adopt the best features of “phased retirement” programs to enhance value for all workers. Through fair and open discussion, help workers to identify the depth and breadth of their experiences and expertise so they can plan their futures. That might lead to new innovation programs, mentoring, advisory positions and alum groups.
In sum, let’s plan our lives and businesses to meet the growing needs of the 21st century and launch our future selves now.