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Prepare to manage workers who live to 150

Life expectancy has been rising almost constantly since 1900, across the world. In the UK it rose by 44 days in a single year. The 85-and-over population is expected to increase more than 300% by 2050 globally. Soon, the 100-year life will be commonplace.

There’s some disagreement about how far this trend can continue, and whether the human life-span can be increased to 120 and beyond. But long before that argument is resolved, most nations will be facing severe health, pensions and productivity crises. It’s a costly problem.

In developed countries, low birth rates and longer schooling mean there are already far too few young people to grow businesses and fill the gap. There are only two possible solutions: Large-scale immigration (a hot topic here in the UK) and making better use of older workers.

The ageing workforce is not a new problem, but few organisations have responded. They must tackle unconscious discrimination based on the assumption that, as UK pensions minister Ros Altmann puts it, “in your late 50s you’re on a downhill slope and soon be gone, so let’s focus on everyone else”. But there’s evidence older workers can add value and stay sharp well into their 60s and beyond.

To make the most of this talent, employers need four things:

1. Check the numbers. How is the demographic ‘time-bomb’ impacting your organisation?

2. Embed flexible working practices. This will benefit the organisation and its most ‘agile’ people, and enable them to fulfil caring responsibilities and enabling ‘phased retirement’.

3. As well as investing in healthcare, adapt the workplace to ensure older workers have the chance to make use of their intellectual skills without needing extreme physical stamina.

4. Provide the ‘glue’ of career support. New factors come into play at each career stage, and ‘late career’ can begin in someone’s 40s, not just in the traditional ‘pre-retirement’ stage. And pay special attention to knowledge transfer between generations – both ways!

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