Riding the career wave

New ways of working and the impact on engagement

There are currently two very interesting phenomena reshaping the way we work.

In the UK today, 18.5% of the population is of retirement age and over, and this will increase significantly over the next few years.

At the same time, workplaces are adapting to the needs of a new generation of workers: “Millennials” or “Gen Y” (working people born on or around 1982 and starting their working lives around the year 2000), who are tech-savvy and extremely hard working but also have very high expectations of employers.

With ever increasing numbers of workers entering the workplace and older people retiring later, employers will increasingly be faced with the requirement to build a whole new way of working. Instead of working towards retirement, we are starting to see a scenario where working lives are characterised by “waves” of activity. Here’s why …

The rise of the millennial

Millennials are mentioned every time someone talks about social learning, flexible working, cloud-based and remote working. The reality is more complex. Millennials have a new attitude defined by technology. Statistics show that millennials are able to work faster and smarter than ever before. They have grown up with technology. They have always been able to open multiple tabs in an Internet browser to conduct research and search for movies and music while simultaneously playing ‘Clash of Clans’. They use social media applications like they were born to it – because they were. They are tech-savvy multi-taskers because that is all they have ever known.

With increased work rates and an “always on” mentality, it’s inevitable that millennials no longer think of the working world as a place where they start a job when they leave full time education and stick at it until they retire. A multi-tasking approach to life also means that people are more likely to want to have several jobs – or alternative occupations / revenue streams – at any one time. We are already seeing career breaks, shifts and even complete changes in direction at many stages along the way. This significantly impacts on the whole dynamic of work.

Our ageing population

As people continue to live longer, the percentage of the population aged over 60 is set to increase dramatically. But as a society (or as a race) can we afford for a greater percentage of the population to be retired? And does the population even want to do this? Whilst millennials are still a long way from retirement, by the time they reach the age of 50, 60 or 70, they may not even be thinking about retirement in the way we do today.

Riding the career wave

At 3gHR and Stanton House’s round table event last week, Richard Lowther, HRD of Reed Exhibitions shared this thought:

“Increasingly, people are not going to retire at 55, 60 or even 65. In fact, I’m predicting that we’ll stop talking about retirement entirely in the future. Instead, people will start to think of their careers as waves or phases”.

If as a society we cannot afford for 25% or more of the population to be retired – and equally if we do not have the pensions or savings to allow us to do this – then the concept of retirement may become redundant. Instead, people will continue to work for as long as they are able, taking breaks and shifting direction at different stages in their lives.

This is a very different model of the workplace from the one that we have become used to over the last 50 years. Employers will need to adapt to a world where a person aged 80 or older is working alongside a person of 20. With very different personal goals, experiences and aspirations, there is a potential for great learning and collaboration – but also for rifts to be created.

This is not a problem that is going away any time soon. It is only just starting to emerge and employers will need to adapt accordingly.

On a personal note

The notion of the “career wave” is one I’m sure many people can relate to. If you can afford to, wouldn’t it be great to take a year out every now and gain, or to retrain and start afresh at the age of 60? I know a ballet instructor who is 70 years old, and only learned to dance at 55. Wouldn’t it be great if this was the start of a new professional era, where more people than ever have their lives enriched by work?

What is certain is that in order to ride the career wave, people need the capacity – and willingness – to learn and adapt to this new way of thinking. Clearly this is something that Millennials were born to (and that we assume the next generation will extend). However, for those of us in our 40s and 50s, the next 10 years will prove interesting, if nothing else.