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Work Daze: Live It Up!

Join me, friend, in a toast to the good old days.

You know — those wonderful days of yore when management could expect workers to put in their 20 years, collect their gold watch and then promptly die. Today, people are living longer and working longer. Instead of having to deal with a troublemaker like you for 20 years, management could end up working with a troublemaker like you for 30, or 40, or 50 years.

A situation like that could crush a manager’s spirit.

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Faced with decades of missed deadlines, disruptive gossip and open hostility, even the most dedicated disciplinarian will throw up their hands and put down their whip. Imagine also the frustration of younger employees, patiently waiting for you to exchange your cubical for a coffin, when they realize they ain’t movin’ up because you ain’t movin’ out.

Of course, there is an easy way for you to resolve all these problems.

You could die.

Really, it’s the least you can do.

Alas, few employees are stepping up and keeling over. On the contrary, research shows that people are living longer and working longer. Or so I learned in a recent Pavel Krapivin article on Forbes, “The Study, Work, Retire Model is Broken As We Live Until 100.”

With today’s life spans, you don’t really have sufficient years for more than one or maybe two careers. But the math is changing. With the shelf lives of skills shortening and the life span of workers lengthening, you no longer can limit yourself to just one skill and one job until you — or your manager — croak.

This is a problem for you and for your managers.

For example, there is the matter of “managing mature workers.”

Mature workers have different needs than the immature newbies that are increasingly populating the workforce. Older workers don’t want to learn new skills. These old dogs cling to their old tricks, like rolling over when their supervisor says “boo.”

Young workers are all about new tricks. They want to be treated as the exciting, innovative individuals they think they are. How will a hip, groovy start-up hire the hip, groovy workers they need when company events will no longer include a bouncy house and a dunk tank, but will instead feature lectures on managing arthritis pain and seminars on sex after 70? Try to get a teenage coding genius to sign on the dotted line when she learns that free wings Wednesdays have been replaced with free cholesterol test Tuesdays.

It won’t be easy.

There are potential positives to this age inequality. As older employees get older and crankier, management will “need a model where the energy of youth interacts with the wisdom of people who have worked many years,” writes London Business School’s Lynda Gratton. “Young people should have the opportunity to spend time with and access the expertise of their elder colleagues.”

Older workers should welcome the opportunity to teach the highly motivated young whippersnappers all they’ve learned about how to pass the buck and pass the blame. Conversely, energetic young workers should feel good about introducing company veterans to exciting new ways to waste time at work. Instead of visiting the AARP website to shop for telephones with big buttons and find new remedies for constipation, the elders can learn to enjoy la dolce vita on Tinder and OK Cupid. Instead of whiling away the workday playing mellow Ms. Pac Man, they will learn to play heart-stopping, blood-drenched action games like “Conan Exiles” and “Dark Souls III.”

All this excitement will be great fun for the older workers, and it could kill them off a whole lot sooner.

It will also be important for employers to hire “based on attitude rather than specific skills.” Free from the obligation of actually knowing how to do anything, employees hired for their ability to cope with longer lifespans will be judged on “qualities of personal resilience, including plasticity, flexibility and a willingness to try new things.”

This emphasis on plasticity is a winner for you. You’re open to trying anything, as long as it helps you avoid work.

If these dramatic demographic changes make you feel uncomfortable, remember the biggest advantage of a longer life span: You will no longer be limited to making life miserable for only one or two employers. Like Count Dracula, you will live forever, draining the lifeblood out of company after company for a virtual eternity.

And isn’t that a whole lot better than a gold watch?

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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