Lynda Gratton is a professor of management practice at the London Business School and author of Redesigning Work and The Hundred Year Life. This is what she told Big Think about the future of retirement and why retiring later isn’t necessarily something to fear.
Politicians may be telling you that you can retire at 60. But let me tell you, the economics are clear – we need to be working into our 70s. The idea of retiring at 60 is fine if you’re going to die at 70. But the truth is most of us aren’t.
Every single decade, we live longer. So the thought that you might live to 100 is a possibility. And so the idea of retiring in your 60s, I think, is entirely outmoded. We need to think about working right the way through our life. But of course, to do that, we have to change the way we think about our whole life.
Impact of the pandemic
The pandemic was an astonishing event. Suddenly, 50 per cent of workers could work from home. So what that did was to upend many of the traditions we had about work. For example, if you take a look at a typical life that your dad had, or that my dad had in the 1940s and `50s, it followed three stages, which everybody did, by the way, at the same time: full-time education, full-time work, full-time retirement.
Think about the way that the world is changing. It’s changing in the sense that we’re living longer. So that means simply retiring at 60 or 55 just isn’t going to work. It’s changing in the sense that there are huge technological changes coming up almost daily. For example, generative AI is a thing that we’re all looking at now. Why are we so excited and frightened of that? Well, it replaces knowledge work.
In fact, there’s an argument that it might even replace the creative tasks we do. So technology requires us to upskill and re-skill every year of our life, and it’s changing in the sense that the family structures we have are also becoming much more individual. So if we’re going to have different ways of living, different family structures, we need to redesign work.
Prepare for a multi-stage life
So here’s what I think is going to happen. We’re going to start doing what I would call a multi-stage life. It’s the idea that you can do all sorts of different things at all sorts of stages. So, for example, education suddenly becomes something you do right the way through your life. It becomes a lifetime of learning.
Work becomes something that you dip in and out of. Rather than starting in a company when you are 20 years old and just going straight through, you could work part time. You could freelance, you could take time off. And retirement also moves back.
The point that I want to make is it’s very hard to work until you’re 70 in one, long, never-ending streak. You have to break that up. And so you can make a life that works for you. Not the life that worked for your dad or for your mum. The life that works for you.
Now, what’s exciting about a multi-stage life, but also frankly makes it more difficult, is that each of us lives our multi-stage life in the way we want to do it. So it could be that at the age of 30, you decide to take time off for a year and travel the world. But as you look around, there’s not that many other people who are going to be doing the same thing. You have to have more of a sense of yourself.
The truth is, the three-stage life is relatively easy. You don’t need to think very much about it, you can just get on and do it, and do it the same way as all your peers do. [With a] multi-stage life, the ask is that you do something that perhaps nobody else in your peer group has done. You become, in other words, a social enterprise, you actually do your own thing, and that takes courage.
The sort of questions you want to ask yourself is: ‘What’s important to me? What is it that I want to get out of my life? How do I want to live my life?’ They’re big questions you need to ask yourself now in order to make the most of the trends that shape our work.
Let’s ditch the idea of retirement. Let’s all work as long as we can and make work fun, exciting, and a learning experience.
What do you think about the ‘multi-stage life’? Does it appeal? Would you be brave enough? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.