What could longer life spans mean to human resources?

What would you do differently if you had 100 years to live? Would you have spent more time exploring which career you wanted to pursue? Would you have rushed out of university so quickly, or even jumped in so fast to begin with? Would you have more courage to change your profession or to take a break from your career if you had another couple of decades on the clock?

It's an interesting question, but one that we don't like to consider because it may not be within our reach. However, every day the possibility of elongated lives becomes much more likely, so what could this mean for how organisations manage people in the future?

By the end of this century, the life expectancy at birth could be 100 years.

Evidence supporting longer life spans

According to The Atlantic, the average life expectancy has risen around three months each year since 1840. In Sweden, the life expectance for women was only 45 almost two centuries ago. Nowadays, it is 83 years. At the turn of the 20th century, Americans were only expected to live for 47 years, but now they are averaging 79.

Based on these trends, by 2050, the average life span could almost be 90 and by the end of this century, the life expectancy at birth could be 100 years.

While some suggest that medical breakthroughs such as antibiotics have pushed life expectancies higher, their impact has only been in part contributed to the far longer trend. We are just living and working longer.

Modern technology to hasten the process

In a recent article published by The Guardian, longevity research is being financed into a reality. Hedge Fund Manager Joon Yun is reported to find the prospect of long life "tantalising" and "believable", putting up a US$1,000,000 prize for the scientists who "hack the code of life". As of 2015, 15 teams had already entered. Google has even joined the race, investing in longevity research and development with its Calico project running since 2013. 

Co-founder of US non-profit SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Foundation Aubrey de Grey is at the forefront of ageing research, telling The Guardian that the first person to live to 1,000 could plausibly be alive today.

"There is an increasing number of people realising that the concept of anti-ageing medicine that actually works is going to be the biggest industry that ever existed by some huge margin and that it just might be foreseeable," he told The Guardian.

Anti-ageing products could drastically alter our societies.Anti-ageing products could drastically alter our societies.

Changing the way we look at careers

With commercial and scientific interest marching ahead with evolution on their side, Author and Professor Lynda Gratton explored what it could mean for talent management in her new book "The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity".

Ms Grattan argues businesses must recognise the implications of this and adjust their human resources processes accordingly.  She suggests that we think about professional development in two-stages. From education to work, and then from work to retirement. This is the way our lives have been prescribed, socially and politically, for years. However, according to Ms Grattan, this applies to a society with a far lower life expectancy than we have now, and may therefore be obsolete.

If employers are to successfully adapt to this new normal, they must "think more creatively about career paths."

Speaking to McKinsey & Company, she spoke of a third stage of experimentation that looks to reshape the way we lead our professional lives. Other than the obvious shifts to retirement ages, Ms Grattan notes that managers must be aware that employees may have different values.

"They will want to hop out at times. They'll want to rejuvenate. They'll want to learn a new skill," she said.

If employers are to successfully adapt to this new normal, according to Ms Grattan, they must "think more creatively about career paths."

Although these changes certainly won't happen over night, if you want to talk more about any human resources issues you have now or can see arising in the future, get in touch with the team at Flexi Personnel.