Will you live to be 100?

Richard Winfield - executive coach to directors and boardsHow long do you expect to live? Have you thought about it? How many of your clients raise this issue or have thought about it for themselves?

Before my brother-in-law retired he asked my father whether he had any advice. He said, ??If I had known how long I was going to live, I would have done things differently."

My father went on to live until he was 93 and was active into his 90s.

When we were at the ICF conference in Fort Worth last month we were repeatedly told that we would be living until we are over 100. I think it was probably an exaggeration, and on one occasion we were told that if you are now under 50 there is a 9% chance that you will live to 100; though it might have been 90%!

One of the workshops that I attended was about ageing.

Mark Twain said, ??Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

Unsurprisingly, many of the people who had chosen to attend were middle-aged or above. I think it is fair to say that all of us are active.

At the same time students in France were rioting in protest against the prospect of having to work until the age of 62. In the UK we were being told that in future we shall probably have to work until we are 70. And on my return, the National Union of Journalists with striking because of concerns about changes to pension arrangements at the BBC.

We are facing a time of major change in expectations and, like my father recommended, we should start to think about the consequences.

One consequence, obviously, is that we should think again about the timing and, perhaps, the process of our retirement.

New generations

Another consequence which was discussed in the workshop is that we can have four or five different generations working in the same organisation. Unlike past generations who differed mainly in terms of their age, these generations think differently.

According to the definitions we were given, people born before 1946 count as the Silent Generation, alternatively The Traditionalists.

Those born between 1946 and 1964 are the famous Baby Boomers; traditionally these would be expecting to retire soon.

Those born between 1965 and 1981 are known as Generation X; they are looking for work life balance.

Those born between 1982 and 2000 are known as generation Y; these people are looking for constant feedback and fun.

And those born after 2000; well, apparently, their brains are wired differently! These are the people who have grown up with the Internet, Google, Facebook and the iPhone.

This is a major challenge for anybody in management. It is a truism in coaching that just because you got to where you are by being successful in the past, it doesn't mean that you can continue to be successful by doing the same things in the future.

Now, though, what is required is potentially more than just adjustment and evolution. What is required is a range of new communication and management skills, and an ability to apply different approaches to different members of your team or organisation.

Since communication is one of the skills that is often taught through coaching, this suggests a major opportunity. However, it also implies a significant programme of learning.

Another challenge or opportunity for coaches is helping people to think through how they spend the latter part of their lives.

It is becoming more likely that a simple concept of retirement – in which one day you receive a salary, health insurance and a gold watch, and the next day you stay at home and contemplate a future of gardening and golf – needs, itself, to be retired. Since our elderly are becoming increasingly youthful, this is a waste of resources and often leads to frustration, sickness and maybe an early death.

Furthermore, many people will not have adequate pension provision, so retirement is likely also to mean poverty.

Career planning

Many people will anyway be looking for a new or different approach to life as they pass through middle age. Career planning as a concept should now include consideration of activity for much of the rest of life.

Another aspect of this changing situation is how organisations manage the transition. In the past, the structure of pensions has meant that people really need to continue to increase their salaries and raise their status until the day they leave. However, their financial needs, their energy, and their general interest might suggest a different path.

Two instances from my past which I was able to recount was seized upon by the workshop. One of the managing directors I had worked with had previously worked for Volvo and had explained that their approach was for senior managers in the last years of their career to move out of line management and into mentoring. Since this was nearly 20 years ago it suggests that Volvo was ahead of its time.

Even longer ago I flew to Tokyo on a trade mission. As we approached our destination the in-flight film focused on developments in Japanese industry. It explained that even in those days the Japanese workforce was getting older. It showed an example of how a factory was being redesigned so that rather than the operative lifting a major piece of machinery, the machinery was lifted hydraulically to a natural working height.

It has always seemed to me that apart from raising awareness, one of the roles of a coach is to challenge orthodox thinking.

Now is the time for out-of-the-box thinking.

Richard Winfield - transition coachRichard Winfield is founder of Brefi Group.
An international facilitator, he coaches and
facilitates directors and boards in transition:
helping them to make progress by
bringing structure and clarity
to their thinking.