assets, which involve self-knowledge and the types
of diverse networks that support personal change
Intangible assets are critical for enabling a long
working life. At any point in time, people will need
to be either actively building or maintaining these
assets, or they will depreciate. (See “Key Assets for a
The challenge for longer working lives is how to
build and maintain intangible assets over a career of
50 or 60 years. Already, by the end of a traditional
three-stage 40-year career, the skills and knowledge
built at the beginning are substantially eroded. With
advances in artificial intelligence, it’s hard to imagine
skills and knowledge lasting multiple decades.
Similarly, extending one’s working life could result
in a sharp deterioration of vitality assets such as health
and happiness. Measures of well-being and life satisfaction tend to reach their lowest level during the
second, employment-focused stage of life and then
increase. 6 Therefore, although working longer will
build the financial assets to support greater longevity,
it could risk depleting crucial intangible assets.
What is the alternative? Inevitably, people want to
balance their investments in tangible and intangible
assets by committing time to both. This will mean
committing time to work in order to generate tangible assets. But it will also mean prioritizing activities
to stay healthy, maintain friendships, and learn new
skills. Those starting their careers may later want to
have time out of the workforce to explore, or to move
later into a company after a period of self-employment.
Those in their 40s may need to take time out of the
workforce to make significant investments in learning new skills to maintain momentum, and those
who don’t plan to (or don’t want to) stop working at
65 will want to develop a portfolio of options.
These different paths will require individuals to
make substantial commitments of time to develop in-
tangible assets. One obvious approach is to add new
life stages that prioritize such investment. It will not be
the first time that new life stages have been intro-
duced. Increasing longevity in developed countries
during the 20th century led to the emergence of two
stages that had not been previously recognized: the
teenage years7 and retirement. 8 It follows that longev-
ity gains may lead to the development of further
additional stages. Rather than a three-stage life, we
expect to see a multistage life, along with a larger
number of transitions. (See “Creating a Multistage
Life,” p. 66.)
As traditional life patterns become less relevant to
many people’s needs, individuals will want to pursue
working lives that are more flexible and multistaged.
However, this desire for flexibility will clash with
current corporate practices and processes. Specifically, we anticipate three tension points, involving:
( 1) people’s desire for personalization; ( 2) their
interest in flexibility; and ( 3) their desire not to be
pigeonholed on the basis of age.
People want personalization; corporations want
conformity. Employees increasingly want to decide for
themselves which intangible assets they invest in, how
much they invest, and how to sequence the various life
stages. So, the first tension point is likely to involve how
those choices align with their employers’ interests.
Although it is understandable that employees
will want to make their own choices, corporate policy and practice are largely based on assumptions
that similar age cohorts are engaged in similar types
of activities and work during the same stages of life.
Those leaving full-time education are typically in
their late teens and 20s; those taking time off tend
to do it as young parents in their 20s and 30s; those
retiring do so in their mid-60s. From a corporate
human resources perspective, age has been a reliable predictor of likely aspirations and motivations.
KEY ASSETS FOR A MULTISTAGE LIFE
In a multistage life, intangible personal assets that enable productivity,
vitality, and career transformations are as essential as financial assets.
• Diverse networks
• Salary and benefits
• Home equity
• Skills and knowledge
• Professional reputation
• Professional networks
• Work-life balance
• Regenerative relationships