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What will work look like in 2050???

Do you remember The Jetsons?  I loved that show.  The futuristic view of how our lives would look. A pill expanding to a meal, flying cars that convert to briefcases, robot helpers, and machines that washed and dressed us. Some of The Jetsons has come very close to current reality; like the phone calls with monitors, and robotics are dramatically advancing and impacting on work.  Have you heard of IBM Watson?

We all feel the swell of the ever-increasing change happening in our lives and work across the world.  We are living in an accelerating world where it is almost impossible to predict what the future will look like. So what are high possibilities of factors that will shape the way we work in the future?

Professor Lynda Gratton who I had the pleasure of meeting recently, has the following to say about the future of work.


The big change factor is TECHNOLOGY.  We know technology is changing everything we do from social media to online shopping.  A major impact of increased technology is CONNECTIVITY. Technology enables people to come together in a way we never imagined previously; thanks to the proliferation of apps and technology, such as Skype, webinars, Facetime, and Facebook live video streaming.  How does this impact on jobs? Medium skill jobs such as admin, professional, sales and operations/fabrications are on an enormous decline.  Up to 40% of jobs will be lost to robotics in the future!


Another trend is LONGEVITY.  Amazing things happen at work when people live longer. Demographers around the world are predicting how long people will live due to improvements in nutrition, research and medical treatment.  Compare someone born in 1945 who lives until 2015 retiring early and 8 years before they die, and also only one money earner in family.  Versus a person born in 1971 in a dual career family, caring for children and elderly parents, multiple job changes, struggling to save for retirement, challenged by millennials in career.  The person born in 1971 has a lot to think about versus 1945 feeling happy retiring early with sufficient money.  1971 cannot retire at 62 as he needs money for his older age.  He’ll probably need to work until his mid-70s!  Third person born in 1998 to 2098 (100 years old) will need to save 25% of her salary to retire early – needs to work into her 80s!


LOW GROWTH is the future outlook of the global economy.  Older workers are used to high growth because of inflation and growth economy so there was money to be distributed at work in the form of salary increases and bonuses.  Professor Gratton predicts that growth will slow down into the future. The Global Rich and Emerging Middle Class (China) are the best off.  Not so good are the global poor and the traditional middle class of Australia, UK and USA who have middle skilled jobs and are living longer. Unstable governments like Australia and the UK do not help this.  I WORK TO MAKE MONEY TO BUY STUFF THAT MAKES ME HAPPY is now the reason we work.  The current role of human resource management is a strong focus on remuneration but why not instead focus on – I WORK TO BE HAPPY.


Another trend is changing SOCIETAL NORMS – change in family structures.  Baby boomers – husband and wife with male breadwinner and female caregiver but what will the family structure of Gen Y look like? Instead it will be a dual career because how else do you pay for life and retirement? Companies have been built for male not the female.  Dual careers is the dominant family structure for the future.  We need to design work structures for all those people who want to balance their family with work – and more of dual careers going into future.


  • Female will have a more complex diverse life.
  • Not the old education-work-retirement life.
  • At the heart of this transformation will be the idea of “juvenescence”. Apparently social scientists call it “neoteny” – the ability to retain youthful characteristics of adaptability and flexibility throughout adulthood.
  • Expect new life stages – explorer (gap years for older people!), independent producer (build, sell, make stuff), portfolio stage (a number of jobs at the same time), transitions. So design for multi-stage lives that accommodate the go away and come back approach.

Stop spending so much time focusing on the tangibles of money, etc. In a low growth economy that is not wise. Focus more on intangibles like productivity, vitality, transformation. Are you depleting, maintaining or building your tangible and intangible assets? Same effort as for remuneration?

  • Productivity is about knowledge, quality peers, and reputation (needing to build good relationships versus old days of “I work for blue chip X”).
  • Vitality – health, balanced living, regenerative relationships (friendships – money can’t buy long-term friendships).
  • Transformational Assets – self-knowledge. We know that we have to change, which is why we have a full bookshelf; if you want to transform yourself then you need to spend time with people who aren’t like you, broaden your networks – and encourage your employees to do the same. Diverse networks.

Keep an eye on the big trends. You have to learn to experiment. Each company and situation is specific so need to be prepared to try new things out, for example:

  • flexible career models
  • customising pay and benefits
  • on and off ramp (not just for mums)
  • onboarding 30 year old creative entrepreneurs
  • delay retirement
  • rehire senior people as juniors

What can you do to experiment with the way you attract and retain great people for your company?

Related Article: Secrets of a Great Workplace

Claire Harrison is the Author of The CEO Secret Guide to Managing and Motivating Employees, and Managing Director of Brisbane-based HR consulting firm Harrison Human Resources.

Professor Lynda Gratton has recently released a new book called The 100-Year Life.


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