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Author Kerry Hannon spoke recently to Susan Flory on The Big Middle podcast about the future of work and why Covid-19 has accelerated change.
What will working life be like for older workers in the future? One person who has done the thinking on this is Kerry Hannon.
She is the author of 13 books, which include, most recently, Never too old to get rich: the entrepreneur’s guide to starting a business mid-life and Great pajama jobs: how to land a job without the commute. She was recently interviewed on the Big Middle podcast by host Susan Flory about the ongoing transformation of work, the movement towards remote working which Hannon says serves employers’ interests by cutting office costs as well as appealing across the age range.
She spoke of younger people, “digital natives”, asking for it in job interviews. She said Covid had accelerated this and was showing those who had been sceptical the benefits of remote working. It is a “great remote working experiment,” she said, adding “the genie is truly out of the bottle”. “People will not look back and say it does not work,” she said. She added that remote working required certain skills, including self discipline and the ability to draw boundaries between work and life and to become a great communicator.
Hannon has done her time in an office as a journalist – “I did my time,” she said – and said she would never go back. She likes the freedom of being able to control when, where and how she works and feels she is more productive and creative as a result. She admitted, however, that there was definitely a place for the office still and that not everyone is hardwired for being a remote worker, with some needing co-workers who are physically present to thrive and to build friendships and loyalty, particularly younger workers. Hannon feels hybrid working is the way forward.
Hannon became interested in how we work after writing a book on Navaho weavers, a project which also gave her more autonomy. “Something fundamentally changed in me,” she says. “I wanted to explore work and where people do what they do, what drives them.”
Hannon says she doesn’t think work will return to ‘normal’ after Covid. “This is a big seismic shift,” she said. “People are losing their jobs and lots of industries will not come back from this. Older workers will take a particularly hard slam. Depending on industry, they are often some of the first people to be laid off. When they try to get back in it takes them longer than younger workers. It’s not impossible, though. They have to be more creative in how they redeploy their skillset in other industries. They cannot just coast. They need to learn more and keep their skills relevant.”
It is also important to counter entrenched ageism which also affects younger workers, she said, adding that the multigenerational workforce is something employers will have to embrace as people work longer and have multiple careers. “It’s not a war of ages,” she said. “That is a made-up myth. A multigenerational workforce is more productive.”
She conceded that things would be very difficult in the next year and that her biggest fear is elder poverty, with people not planning for a longer working life and facing a future of insecure, contract-based work. More retraining and the creation of more jobs and a welfare cushion are needed. The jobs we do need more of – for instance, caring jobs – need to be better paid, she said. “The need for a human touch is not going to go away”, she said, even – or especially – in an age of automation. She foresees new roles, such as senior fitness instructor, home remodification specialist and patient advocate coming online as we think more deeply about what the important jobs are in an ageing society and how we value them.
Hannon, whose next book’s title is Work Transformed, added that she also anticipated more entrepreneurship as people struggle to find jobs.
*Listen to the full interview on The Big Middle here.