Issue #92
#92 - Longer Lives --> Longer Careers. But Who Is Planning For Them?
November 17, 2023

#92 - Longer Lives --> Longer Careers. But Who Is Planning For Them?

And I was talking to Willie Nelson about this whole "retiring" thing, because he’s older than I am, even. And he says, ‘Retire from what?’ And I think that just says it. Retire from what? -- Sir Paul McCartney

Imagine, dear reader, a long-distance runner training for a marathon. 🏃🏻‍♀️

She trains hard, optimizes her pace, and plans breaks for the 26.2 miles she's going to run. On the day of the race, she grinds to the finish line but -- surprise! -- the race isn't over. The rules have changed, and she needs to run another 10 miles. 😮

Nothing left in the tank? Tough luck. Bring on a sub? Sorry, this isn't a relay, and besides, there's no one around to relieve you.

Not fun.

But it's akin to the surprise we risk running into when we think of our careers as the pursuit of a hard finish line, or "retirement". Despite so much evidence, and so many big, hard-to-reverse demographic, economic and social trends that are making a finish line less defined than ever.

Trends like shrinking populations, and longer life spans; inflation, dwindling savings, and pension plans that might not "be there" when we retire; the desire that more and more of have to keep busy and active, like Paul McCartney. 🎸

To what extent are humans living longer? A hundred years ago, our average life expectancy was in the mid-30s. In the United States in 1920, it was 41. Today, global life expectancy is 72 years, and in some parts of the world, it’s approaching 90.

This week, our Stories explore the implications of these longer lives on work. On our careers, and on the organizations we lead.

🎯 Story #1 - Two experts -- one is an economist, the other studies longevity -- explain that longer lifespans are positively impacting the diversity of the U.S. workforce. But they also have provocative recommendations on the need to adapt how we work, and retirement plan, in light of longer lives. ⬇️

🎯 Story #2 - A government subsidizing firms to hire older workers. A staffing agency whose job ads mandate that applicants be at least 60 years old to interview. 🤔 We hop to Japan, whose declining birth rates and systemic labor shortages offer a glimpse of what other countries' workforces may look like in future.

🎯 Story #3 - An author and career coach shares a simple, sobering fact: most of us will wind up wanting to work a couple of decades past the age of 50. But she also has an inspiring message for us: embrace these years, because they have the potential to be the most meaningful and creative phase of your career. 🙌🏻

Most of us aren't on the cusp of retirement, or even in the final part of our career. But that's the point: to start, now, to adapt, strategize, and prep for a longer career journey than we tend to visualize in the abstract.

Thanks for reading and exploring with us -- and have a great end to your week!

Aki + Usman

P.S. I have a friend, Swarnima, who is talented, thoughtful, and deeply engaged on the topics of this newsletter. She is also a long-time writer, so I asked if she would guest curate an issue for us -- and she agreed! It will go out before the end of the year. If you also have what to say or investigate about the changing world of work, and want to explore guest writing here, hit "reply" and let me know! 🙏🏻


#RedistributingWork #ReimaginingRetirement

Last year, the Washington Post invited Jason Furman, a professor or economics at Harvard, and Laura Carstensen, the founding director of Stanford’s Center on Longevity, to wax on the opportunities and challenges of an aging workforce.

The TL;DR? Longer lifespans are changing our attitudes on retirement, motivating companies to retain experienced employees, and bringing more age diversity to the workforce. It's tinged with some caveats, but on the whole, Furman and Carsensen paint a rosy picture, and we've plucked some key lines from the transcript.

This quote from Carstensen, resonated:

Work is good for people by and large. People benefit from working in all sorts of different ways. But the way we work is not great at all. What we do is we work way too hard in the middle of our lives and then we work very little toward the end of our lives. In some sense, this is our response to longer lives. We've inherited 30 extra years, on average, of life expectancy. And what we did was tack all those years onto the end. So only retirement, only old age, got longer.
We have an opportunity to rethink that. What I’d like to see us do is to work many more years and fewer days in the week and hours in the day. And I think we could improve quality of life.

So the recommendation, from someone deeply expert on aging, is that we redistribute our effort and our work. That we assume and embrace a much longer career -- and pace ourselves accordingly.

Furman, the economist, then weighs in:

It’s actually been one of the things that’s worked well in the economy, in the last couple decades. It used to be that if people aged, they worked less and less. Starting around the 1980's that actually turned around and we've had a steady increase in people working longer… That enables people to have a higher income and it's generally a good thing.

This line from Carstensen is insightful (and exciting!, too):

One of the important features of our workforce in the United States, that is different from some other countries, like Japan, in that it’s far better characterized by age diversity instead of aging... We have reached an astounding, remarkable point in our country’s history and that is that we have comparable numbers of people across the age range.

Again, it's a bullish picture from the two speakers, who bring a largely American lens to the trend. But in our next Story, we zoom in on Japan and other parts of Asia to understand how shrinking populations, over-stretched pension plans, and longer lives are playing out. ⬇️


#LongerLives #ShrinkingPopulations #Retirement

The U.S. might enjoy a unique blend of generations in its workforce right now, but its birthrate is also falling, and immigration -- a traditional source of economic strength that has long-dampened labor and population shortfalls -- is in decline, too. Just as they are in Europe, by the way. And given the compounding ferocity of a declining birth rate, and the extent of today's immigration restrictions, a look at Asia -- Japan, Korea, and China, in particular -- becomes instructive, regardless of where we sit.

This read from the New York Times is full of sobering, human stories of people in Asia working -- often toiling -- into their 70's and 80's. What's driving the phenomenon?

With populations across East Asia declining and fewer young people entering the work force, increasingly workers are toiling well into their 70s and beyond. Companies desperately need them, and the older employees desperately need the work. Early retirement ages have made it difficult for governments in Asia to pay retirees enough money each month to live on.
Demographers have warned about a looming demographic time bomb in wealthy nations for years. But Japan and its neighbors have already started to feel the effects, with governments, companies — and most of all, older residents — grappling with the far-reaching consequences of an aging society. The changes have been most pronounced in the workplace.

The article focuses mainly -- but not exclusively -- on less "creative" jobs, like retail, construction and delivery in Japan, Korea and China. But the stories paint a picture, on the one hand, of older populations needing to work beyond "retirement" because state pension plans can't cover living expenses. And on the other, of companies desperate to hire these workers to plug the labor shortages they face:

In Japan, for example, surveys show that as many as half of companies report shortages of full-time workers. Older workers have stepped in to fill the gaps. “We have so much unused and untapped working capacity,” said Naohiro Ogawa, a visiting fellow at the Asian Development Bank Institute.

It may not be as acute, yet, as it is in Japan, but much of the world is facing some form of talent shortage right now. So the idea that organisations should learn to tap into the capacity that older workers offer is globally relevant. It's also one of the themes of our next Story. 👇


#RetirementReimagined #CareerChapters #Inclusion #Vocabulary

There are podcasts I've recommended to friends as "great", or "fun", or "insightful". But there are not many I've labelled "important". This one is an exception: it felt important.

I'm going to focus on one of its themes -- reimagining careers and retirement -- because it's relevant to today's newsletter. But this is a multi-faceted listen, and it's worth taking in the whole episode (it's only 24-minutes long).

The host is Fast Company, and the guest is Dr. Lucy Ryan, an author, coach and consultant. Dr. Ryan also coined a term, "mid-life collision", to describe the combination of mental, physical and emotional challenges that women often face in midlife: taking care of older children, taking care of aging parents; menopause; day-to-day financial and career stress.

With one simple phrase, Dr. Ryan reminds us how gendered and exclusive the sports-car chasing mid-life crisis narrative is, extends the conversation beyond men to women, and gives voice to a set of challenges that are as poorly supported (by employers, governments, and society) as they are under discussed. Of course, part of why they are so poorly supported is precisely because they're under discussed. Dr. Ryan's evocative language helps change this.

Later in the interview, Dr. Ryan also pivots the discussion from midlife challenges, to midlife opportunities. She flags the need for people (and organizations) to recognize that there is a whole career to be had, from just the age of 50:

I think we have to, with these hundred year life spans, get used to the idea that between 50 and 75 there is a whole chunky career waiting for us.

Let's pause and visualize how many years we've worked so far. Now, let's picture that number relative to what could be 20 or 25 more years, in some way, shape or form, on the back end of our careers.


Instead of viewing this phase as a time to dial back though, Dr. Ryan tells us to embrace it as an opportunity to be creative, take risks, and find more meaning in our work. She also warns that companies, desperate to find creative talent, are missing out by failing to include this segment in their organizations.

All in all it's a not-so-subtle nudge to reimagine "retirement"; the phase, as well as the phrase:

I think we have to retire the word "retirement" and start thinking chapters, like career chapters, and how we're going to manage them. Because every single piece of data says we need older people within our workforce, and we need them at the senior levels as much as at junior levels.

I often think of my career in acts; as distinct parts of a broader story (and even wrote out the acts!). But I love Lucy's use of "chapters", because it signals even more adaptation. After all, we will wind up writing lots of chapters in our careers!

And to be clear, the message today is one of urgency: a call to embrace the reality, length and fluidity of a modern career. But it is also one of empowerment: if you're reading this newsletter, chances are you have some form of agency over the twists and turns of your career.

Maybe a bit less so in years when the economy is bad, or when college loans overlap with mortgage payments. (!!) But by and large, we get to write, well, our own TalentStories. 🙃

We get to ask what is meaningful to us, at different points in our lives, and assess how our work contributes to that meaning. On some level, really, the question we get to pose is:

"What is the next chapter I want to write in the Story of my career?" ✌🏻

Thanks for reading. 🙏

Work moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Join over 1,000 subscribers — sign up today for free.
© 2021 TalentStories, Inc. All rights reserved.