By: Alison Brady, Head of PageUp Talent Lab, PageUp

Posted on 15 Aug 2017

Disruption and innovation are shaking up industries and workforces. Everything from the type of work we do to where we work, how we work and how long we work for is being transformed. And the implications for workplace learning are huge. Its importance is growing exponentially.1 What we need to learn and how we best integrate this throughout our working life is changing. One of the macro trends influencing this is increasing lifespans. Advances in science and medicine mean we are living longer and working longer, and it’s plausible that children born in the last decade will have careers that span 60 years and include dozens of jobs. Couple this with the speed and certainty of continual change, and the need for lifelong learning becomes a given.

Innovations in learning technology give companies today the ability to engage people in continuous learning throughout their longer and more varied careers. These technologies are a far cry from traditional Learning Management Systems and leverage well-used and loved aspects of consumer technology. They make sure learning is simple, social and spontaneous; available anytime, anywhere.

The most recent PageUp book publication, CLIFFHANGER – HR on the Precipice in the Future of Work, explores trends that are shaping the future and what these mean for workforce management and learning. This excerpt focuses on the impact of longevity.

Life Long Learning

Work Forever

“Making the most of the gift of a long life
requires everyone to face up to the truth of
working into your 70’s or even 80’s.
Simple as that.”

Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott
Authors: The 100-Year Life

The good news: your chances of being alive to blow out the candles on your 100th birthday cake are pretty high. The estimated odds have increased from 20 million:1 to 50:1 in low mortality countries. The World Health Organization forecasts a near doubling of the percentage of over 60 year-olds in the world population between 2015 and 2050, from 12% to 22%.2 That’s over 2 billion people!

The bad news: neither you nor your government’s social security system can afford your retirement. Most of us will have to work. Hopefully not until our 100th birthdays, but quite likely to our 80th.

That may well be good news too. Advances in science, technology and medicine are enabling longer, healthier, more active lives. Far from opting out of the workforce, many older adults are keen to continue their participation, encouraged, no doubt, by continuing evidence that work and longevity are correlated.

A recently completed longitudinal study of U.S. retirees upholds the anecdotal observations of many that working longer extends our lifespan. Continuing to work for even one year beyond retirement age was shown to reduce mortality rates by 11% independent of socio-demographic, lifestyle and health confounders.3

For a longer work lifespan to eventuate however, some significant changes need to occur in government policy, organisational culture, and individual expectations.

Workforce participation rates for age brackets 60-64 years and over 65 year olds in a sample of countries around the world are shown in this table.4 On average, male workforce participation declines by over 65% by age 65 and female participation declines by over 73%. Today on average, only 1 in 4 males over 65 continues in paid work and only 1 in 10 females.


Workforce Participation Rates in Over 60’s

CountryMale/FemaleAge 60-64Age >65+% Decrease
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce


Governments on the whole have been slow to react and policies have been lacklustre in their impact. It is one thing to simply lift the official retirement age to defer triggering pension access – another to support employers and employees with work continuity programs, including retraining, job restructuring and flexible work practices.

Further, most organisations are not moving quickly enough to capture and channel the accumulated knowledge and experience of their older workers in revised ways that can benefit the entire business. And ultimately, individuals need to embrace the value – social, financial and professional – of staying active in the workforce, rather than viewing work as a compromise to their lifestyle.

One of the most pervasive legacies of the industrial age is the mindset we inherited about the structure of work and life. The ‘three-stage-life’, consisting of Stage 1 education, Stage 2 work and Stage 3 retirement, became hardwired into the 20th century model.5

But that linear pathway cannot survive in the future of work. The certainty of rapid change will demand that we continuously learn, unlearn and relearn, that we hold a portfolio of careers and work experiences and that changing modes of work keep us employed in some fashion long after the official retirement age. The concept of retirement could disappear altogether. However, until it does, it pays to have an effective succession planning system in place. Learn more here.


1  Josh Bersin (2017). Corporate learning disrupted: what’s going on? Webinar delivered July 19, 2017.

2  World Health Organization: Retrieved August 15, 2016.

3  Wu, C., Odden, M.C., Fisher, G.G. & Stawski, R.S. (2016). Association of retirement age with mortality: a population based longitudinal study among older adults in USA. J Epidemiol Community Health, 70, 917-923.

4  United States Census Bureau (2016). An aging world: 2015 – International population reports.

5  Gratton, L. & Scott, A. (2015). The 100-year life. Bloombury.

This piece was taken from the PageUp publication, CLIFFHANGER – HR on the Precipice in the Future of Work which addresses the major factors impacting the current HR and business landscape.  To learn more about the book and download a free chapter, click here.

About The Author

Alison Brady
Head of PageUp Talent Lab, PageUp

Alison leads PageUp Talent Lab and is responsible for research in the field of strategic human capital management. She has more than 15 years of experience delivering organisational development solutions, consulting and advisory services to a diverse range of companies. Alison is a Registered Psychologist with a Masters Degree in Organisational Psychology.

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