My grandparents were born not long after the Civil War and lived into their mid-60s to mid-70s. My parents and their siblings lived into their late-70s to mid-90s. The Boomers have made ‘60 the new 40‘ and millennials are likely to see passing 100 years old as pretty routine.

Have you thought at all about what this means for business? For your own future?

I suspect many people have not. When I speak about longevity, current audiences are almost as likely as those 15 years ago to assume they will retire in their 60s. Investment companies regularly report that retirement savings are not adequate for living beyond 10-12 years of retirement.

A recent book, THE 100-YEAR LIFE: LIVING AND WORKING IN AN AGE OF LONGEVITY by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, offers ideas and insights for our future. Businesses which begin to adapt now will have an advantage. Longer lives also mean different patterns of working and education. Yet most of us still build our business practices around some three-stage life notions of education in youth, 30-40 years of work, and then retirement.

The recent Great Recession brought some changes as more people worked into their late 60s and mid 70s. Retirees returned to the workplace in temporary, seasonal, and lower-skilled jobs. Today there are more people working past 55 and into their late 70s than at any time since before WWII.  But companies have not fundamentally changed their practices.

No-one can really save enough to retire for 30 – 40 years in a 35 – 45 year work life, especially now that pensions have become so rare. One of the early illustrations in the book is a scary look at this point. Someone born in the early 1970s, who works for 44 years to age 65 and lives to be 85, and does not have a company pension, would have to save over 17% of their gross income in a retirement savings plan EVERY YEAR during their working years. Born in the 1990s, same assumptions — but a 100 year life span, and that retirement saving need every year goes over 25%. Not likely!

Think about what this means going forward. Our employment systems must support continuous education and development. Companies must recognize people will leave the workforce periodically to renew their education and themselves and that these people will make great employees at many life stages. Individuals must be prepared for longer careers which are likely to involve several more career changes than in the past as new technology changes what jobs exist.  Our businesses must adjust to the new consumer behaviors resulting from such changes too.

What Your Small Business Can Do

  • Start planning for possible impacts on both your employees and customers of longevity.
  • Recognize the labor pool that you probably have not tapped into and start hiring from new groups; such as people over age 55 and mid-career people who have invested in current education and have skills you need.
  • Assess how your culture will support 5-6 generations in the workplace and reduce discrimination related to aging and disability.
  • Consider ways to provide retirement savings programs, internal training and development, and financial education for your employees.

What You Can Do Personally and for Your Family

  • Look at your own retirement plan, both financially and timing, to ensure you can meet your own goals.
  • Educate yourself and your family on these changes and ways work and education must change to deal with longevity.
  • Free your mind of the expectation of retirement in your 50s or 60s, unless you are already 55 or older, and seek to model that change for younger family members and friends.

The book has lots of good suggestions and paths to consider for your future and for our economy. It is well worth reading.

We imagine that only we are dealing with rapid technological changes. But consider this: Many of the American ‘doughboys’ who went off to World War I had never been more than 20 miles from their birthplace. Suddenly they were riding on trains and then ships to a country whose language few knew and fighting with mortars, planes, trains, trucks, and tanks instead of horses and rifles. And for most, their lives included both the new threat of nuclear war and the beginning of the space age!

Change is a constant in most modern lives and this one offers great promise as well as peril. Which way forward will you choose?