The multi-stage life and what it means for the future of work.
Welcome to the most important conversation of our lifetime. At the time of writing the world has just celebrated one year of a global health crisis. This was the first global pandemic that has affected humanity in the recent history. However, this is not the last one in our generation. Covid-19 crisis impacted our societies and economies unlike anything that has preceded it. It has exposed the vast inequalities which exist in our societies, and most clearly it had a massive impact on the way we work. However, it has also meant that suddenly, how we view work and flexible working have taken on a new significance, and many of the changes which have happened, initially on a temporary basis, are likely to be made permanent. At any rate, the pandemic and its aftermath have made it all the more urgent to move towards a shorter working week or a more flexible approach when it comes to how and where we work, and a focus on the needs of each individual. In this way we can ensure that we emerge from the crisis with a better world than the one we had going into it. This essay will analyse different aspects that need to be considered when discussing about the future of work such as: increase in life expectancy, happiness, longevity, and overall well-being of people in work environments.
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.
However, the reality of today’s world is completely different so then why are we still focused on this type of approach? If we look closer at the statistics will see the situation is quite different, we can see that a child born in the West today has more than 50% chance of living to 105, by contrast a child born over a century ago to less than 1% chance of living to that age. This is a gift that has been accruing slowly but steadily over the last 200 years life expectancy has expanded at a steady rate of more than two years every decade. That means that if you are now 20 you have a 50% chance of living to more than 140 even the chance of reaching 95 if you are 60 and a 50% chance of making to 90 or more. This is not science fiction you probably will not live to 180 -what is clear is that millions of people can look forward to a long life and this will create pressure on how they live and how society and businesses operate there is no doubt that new norms and role models will emerge and already there is plenty of evidence of people in society adapting to these changes. Looking forward changes will be more expensive still to raise the general issue in the level of public consciousness and debate. How will you make the most of this gift? (Gratton and Scott, 2016)
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)
Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. (Brown, 2012, p33)
Vulnerability is not good or bad: it is not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it it always alight, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of fear that the costs will be too high as to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living. Psychologists have recently begun to study how people’s mood varies from activity to activity, one study of around 900 working women in Texas investigated the previous working day that was divided into episodes they identified roughly 14 episodes. They then reported what they were doing in each episode and who they were doing it with. Finally, they were asked how they felt in each episode along 12 dimensions that can be combined into a single index of good or bad feeling. This table shows what they liked the most and what they liked the least. (Layard, 2011)
Feelings at any moment are of course influenced by memories of past experiences in the dissipation’s future ones. Memories and anticipations are very important part of our mental life, they pose no conceptual problems in measuring our happiness- be it instantaneous or averaged over a longer period. Our average happiness may be influenced by the pattern of our activities, it is mainly affected by our basic temperament and attitudes and by key features of our life situation- our relationships, our health, our worries about money. (Layard, 2011)
The creation of these new stages of life is a real gift these new stages create an opportunity to experiment to build the life you want grounded there are probably already family or friends who are experimenting with new stages really creation will be more important than recreation with more transitions and new stages, the need to invest in shifting identity so you can take on a new role in creating a different lifestyle all in developing new skills the gift of a longer life with more time creates the space for investment historically this investment came in the first stage of life in a period of full-time education when life becomes multistage to them this investment happens throughout life and in periods that have tradition been seen as leisure time more using leisure time to invest in skills health and relationships may not sound terribly appealing typically leisure has been seen as consuming time by doing nothing more than lying on the couch and watching a film going sailing or just having fun and playing computer games with more hours there is more time for leisure balancing this with using leisure time so something.
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)
A direct way in which the organisations can support employees in this new work environment is through dedicated teams that can assess the needs of individuals and match them with potential job requirements. In the past it would have been human resources as a department that would do that however, HR as a function in organisations has evolved from helping staff with administrative tasks related to their employment some 75 years ago, to the present day situation where the roles of the leaders and HR are often blurred and confused: it is unclear who is accountable for the decisions about people in the organisation. HR policies are designed to give structure to decision-making about staff to ensure consistency and fairness. It is important therefore that the HR team developing the policies understands the business and its environment, as well as the people working in organisation. If the policies are flexible or not adapted to changing circumstances, they become liabilities, getting in the way of delivering success in generating toxicity that saps the organisation’s energy. (Brown and Kingsley and Patterson, 2015, p156)
Dan Siegel the founding father of interpersonal neurobiology has suggested that mind is an emergent property of the way the brain works and is an embodied and relational process that regulates energy and information flow. The mind is embodied because there are important components of mind that are contained within the body: the brain and the central nervous system. It is relational because a healthy mind is dependent on having healthy relationships with other people. So information, energy and relationship are in continuous dynamic flow with each other. What seems to have happened in the later part of the 20th century is that organisations have been swamped with information, ignored energy, and commercialised and systemised relationships with protocols of behaviour. In consequence organisations became mind-less. And that induces fear, for nothing can be relied upon: nothing is safe. The fear free organisation needs to reclaim the essence of the dynamic interdependence of information energy and relationship. For a mind to be working well the three key elements of information, relationship and energy need to be in continuous dynamic relationship with each other, each supporting and feeding off one another. (Brown and Kingsley and Patterson, 2015, p156–157