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the changing shape of working life

Apr, 16, 2012 | No Comments | life, money, reflections, wellbeing

For some time, financial and social commentators have been telling us that the shape of working life is changing. 

There is a loss of skills that comes from workers taking early retirement and if Australia is to remain a growing economy, this must be rectified.  The problem is not unique to us as most developed nations are facing the same dilemma.

Consider how our working life has transformed over the last 50 or so years and it will be easier to see how there are more changes to come.

traditional work patterns

In the mid-twentieth century, most workers were male and generally their work pattern was pre-determined.  It involved three stages:

  1. Education up to their mid to late teens
  2. Work usually with one employer until retirement at age 65
  3. Leisure in retirement for a short period, typically 2-5 years

emerging work patterns


By the end of the century, this pattern had changed with more women in the workforce. The three phases had changed to:

  1. More education so that full-time work didn’t start until their early 20s
  2. Work with a number of employers and retirement before age 60
  3. Leisure in retirement for potentially 25-30 years.

future work patterns


Every parent knows that their children’s employment will look nothing like their own.  Adults of the future will need to continually upgrade their skills to stay on top of the new industries and jobs that will emerge.  As is already the case, few people will have only one employer and most will change employers to follow new opportunities.  Working on contract will mean much less job security but it may suit the lives of many who prefer to share their skills around.

Some commentators have suggested that the “new-age” worker will repeat the three life stages throughout their life.  There is no reason why you have to wait until age 60 or 65 to take a long period of leisure time.  For instance, you could take time to travel or do volunteer work overseas and return to upgrade your skills before returning to work.

Some people who have grown up through these changes may still view their retirement as a long period of leisure following a long period of work.  The traditional measure of success at work has been a steadily rising income, increased responsibility and more prestige. 

Many successful workers are now questioning how long they want to continue climbing this particular ladder.  Typically by the time they reach their sixth decade they will have launched their children on their lives and paid off their major debts.  There comes a period of re-evaluation where they can consider their life/work balance asking questions like:

  • Is more money still important?
  • What do I want to do for the next 30-40 years?
  • Would my life improve with less responsibility?
  • How can I use my skills in ways that inspire me?

Instead of a long period of leisure, maybe the future will follow a different pattern where you can follow your passion in new ways, remaining active and involved, earning a lower income but having more fun. 

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