The multi-stage life and what it means for the future of work.

The multi-stage life and the gift of time

When we talk about the future of work, we need to prepare ourselves for an increase in longevity of the general population that will in fact affect the way we work. It does not matter how old we are now we need to start thinking about how we want our working lives to look. We need to shift from the current view of life as a three-stage process, into one that has multiple stages and transitions and is more focused on individual needs. The current focus of our lives is a three-stage process that means we start with education, and we transition into our career lives and then we retire.

Happiness as an asset

In a longer life our levels of happiness will matter more than any other tangible assets we will manage to accumulate during our lifetime. In fact, I would argue that happiness is one of the key intangible assets that we can invest in now so we can lead a more fulfilled life. Until recently, if people said they were happy, sceptics would hold that this was just a subjective statement. There was no good way to show that it had any objective content at all. But now we know that people say about how they feel corresponds closely to the actual levels of activity in different parts of the brain, which can be measured in standard scientific ways. So, what is the feeling of happiness? Is there a state of feeling good or feeling bad that is a dimension of all our waking life? Can people say at any moment how they feel? Indeed, is your happiness something, a bit like your temperature, that is always there, fluctuating away whether you think about it or not? If so, can I compare my happiness with yours? The answer to all this question is essentially yes. This may surprise those of sceptical disposition. But it would not surprise most people, past or present. They have always been aware of how they felt and have used their introspection to infer how others feel. Since they themselves smile when they are happy, they infer that when others smile, they are happy too. It is through their feelings of imaginative sympathy that people have been able to respond to one another’s joys and sorrows through history. So, by happiness I mean feeling good-enjoying life and wanting the feeling to be maintained. There are countless sources of happiness, and countless sources of pain and misery. But all our experience has in it a dimension that corresponds to how good or bad we feel. In fact, most people find it easy to say how good they are feeling, and in social surveys such questions get very high response rates, much higher than the average survey question. When it comes to how we feel most of us take a longish view. We accept the ups and downs and care mainly about our average happiness over a longish period. That average is made up from a whole series of moments. At each moment of waking life, we feel happy, just as we experience noise. Happiness begins where unhappiness ends. (Layard, 2011)

Feelings Fluctuate

Current model of work causes harm

Our current model of worktime is causing harm to workers; a reduced working week could help cut levels of overwork and stress and increase the wellbeing of workers. The latest HSE statistics show that the total number of days lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety stands at 15.4 million, an increase of nearly 3 million on last year’s statistics, and the third year in a row it has increased. One in four of all sick days lost in the UK are as a direct result of workload. In 2019/20 there were an estimated 828,000 workers affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This represents 2,440 per 100,000 workers and results in an estimated 17.9 million working days lost. In 2019/20 work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health and 55% of all days lost due to work-related ill-health. Over recent years the rate of self-reported work-related stress, anxiety or depression has increased with the latest year 2019/20 significantly higher than the previous year. Evidence suggests this is not related to COVID-19. However, there is no clear trend in the rate of working days lost per worker for work-related stress, anxiety or depression. Days lost per worker is a combination of the overall case rate and the days lost per case. (Health and Safety Executive, 2020, p4)

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