I was brought up in an era where the common paradigm for a life plan was to get a job, work for a bunch of years, save some money, then when you are worn out and spent, “retire” and enjoy a few years of leisure.
A couple of months ago, a friend of mine who is a well known local, busy businessperson, comfortably in his sixties, asked me if I planned to retire at some point…..and it was a serious question, not just a social nicety, like he was trying to work out a problem. Well I had given it some thought prior to that and said “well, not really, I plan to work until health dictates otherwise but I will increasingly do things I enjoy doing.” He said, “yeah me too, I don’t really get the idea of retirement!”. The guy loves his work!
A chart came up this week in The Economist which indicates that over the last couple of decades, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people working later in life. In some categories, the rise has been 10 years later! Some commentaries indicate that a lot of this is necessity: inadequate pension plans, rises in the cost of living, etc, but basically poorer people being economically forced to work longer. However, a closer look at the chart indicates something quite different.
Here it is:
Note how the people who are working by far the longest are not the people at the lower end of the income scale, it is exactly the opposite. The affluent continue to work. What’s up with that?
So what is it: Does higher education make you want to work longer? Are people motivated mainly by the big bucks? Do only ambitious hardworking people seek higher education? Greed? I doubt that any of this is widely true.
Here is my theory, which smashes some of my old paradigm ways of thinking: people do love to work…….IF………., so there is the big “IF”.
When we imagine the sorts of jobs that the various people on the chart above will be doing, what we will see is that as the educational requirements rise, so does the nature of the jobs change. Work gets more interesting, more challenging, more meaningful. It’s not unusual at all to see medical professionals work well into their 70’s. Obviously (to me anyway), they are finding meaning and satisfaction in their work of helping others (which is probably one big key feature….and another topic altogether). There is something within all of us to do something that is meaningful and worthwhile, and people such as medical practitioners often find that in their work.
So this becomes a new challenge for employers. If employers want employees to enjoy coming to work, loving the work and doing a great job, they need to come to jobs that are more interesting, more varied, more meaningful. Jobs can give people a sense of value and purpose. Give them a job of counting widgets on an assembly line for years on end and you will see a lot of sick days and retirement ASAP. Give them a job they enjoy, and they will be productive, happy, healthy and everyone will benefit in a more healthy economy.
Doing what you enjoy is so important, and it’s different for everyone. I remember when our daughter was pre-school. She didn’t play much with dolls, if at all. But she self-taught reading through Reader Rabbit games on the computer and she could be kept happy by giving her “workbooks”. These weren’t workbooks to her, they were play-books. Doing word games or number games were fun to her and she’s still doing it as an Engineering student at university (although it’s a bit more like work than play these days! 🙂 )
This idea extends well beyond the issues of money. Volunteerism is yet another way people love to work and find meaning in it.
I remember my dad used get people thinking when they asked him what he worked at. He would say “I’ve never worked a day in my life!” When he got the anticipated incredulous reaction, he would add “I like what I do so it’s not work to me!” So yes, given the right circumstances, people do love to work!