Australian male and female life expectancies are now in the 80s, and the conditional life expectancy of most 50 year olds today is also north of 90 years. Careers are expected to last for 60 years – not 40 years as they did for our parents.
In counterpoint to this trend, large corporations are shrinking in size and employing fewer people. This is due to globalised competition, and the impact of the internet, which is now a 30-year-old technology that isn’t predicted to mature for another 20 years. Doing ‘more with less’ is a mantra that’s not going away any time soon.
Charles Handy, an Irish author and philosopher specialising in organisational behaviour and management, is an exemplar of a working mindset we all need to aspire towards. At 83, Charles is still actively writing, teaching and publically speaking. Some years ago, he said future organisational employment patterns would be expressed in the following equation ½ x 2×3.
What that means is that, in future, organisations will employ half the number of people they did previously, but pay them twice as much and expect them to produce three times the quantum. Discomforting as it is, these trends are already in evidence today.
So where are the new jobs going to come from? The internet, a key change driver, is one place. A global corporation can be one person sitting alone at a PC in their bedroom. Resourceful types in Silicon Valley in California and other byways are creating small, nimble companies to employ like-minded souls who don’t want to work for unwieldy, large corporations.
The Dunbar principle, named after an Oxford academic psychologist, states that we all have a strong preference to be acquainted with or be connected to no more than 150 people at one time, across our family, work environment, and close friends.
Bringing these trends together suggests that future employment growth will come more from small firms and solitary operators working as e-lancers; and crowd-sourced participants in other people’s business who work for a limited time and from time to time.
Part of the reshaping of our national and global economies will also come from us, the workers. And how we feel about our life and career. Handy says work forms three important parts of our life: to fulfil our passion, to enable discharge of our set of duties and to make money.
These three features change in their priority over time, and are usually associated with three forms of activity. Making money and fulfilling duties are very important to working parents, usually until children grow up and move away.
Passion has been missing from our working lives in the past decade, says Handy. Engagement surveys support this assertion with Gallup revealing that 75 per cent of employees currently feel disengaged from their work. And as we reach our 50s, we know we are among the next target for downsizing.
In Handy’s latest book The Second Curve, he surmises all of us have a career shaped like an ‘S curve’. It starts off low, we have a few dips early on, and then we rise steadily upwards until our peak is reached, at which point we can hang on a bit too long and then start to drop off in our performance, until our career ends.
In post war years, that was alright because you could slow up from ages 55 to 65, and we had employers who were tolerant of that. But no longer.
Handy believes humans can reshape themselves and their careers with a two-year maturity pattern. The key to that is finding out what golden seeds sit within you and where they can be mobilised to introduce a new, second ‘S curve’ into your working life.
HR professionals reaching 50 need to explore their passions and potential for a future career. And it’s also where leadership from HR, both by example and by encouragement, is important for the people we work alongside.