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Written by Michael Hilton

What would you care about if you were likely to live for 100 years?

There is a lot written about millennials being different from other generations. So far in my time at Blueprint I’ve heard many (often older) folk pin their hopes on the young’s new found desire, as a generation, for a more purposeful and environmentally-friendly future. It’s the millennials, they say, who will insist that businesses become better employers and better stewards for our planet.

I’ve been sceptical. Plenty of my friends who were born in the 1980s seem quite content working in big, traditional businesses earning big, traditional pay checks. And I know plenty of my parents’ age who are deeply worried about the state of our society and the risks posed by climate change.

How much can we really talk about everyone who “reached young adulthood in the early 21st century” (to use the OED definition of millennial) as having similar views or desires? Beyond a shared love of Friends, Oasis and The Crystal Maze (original version) that is…

Yet, I’ve recently discovered that there is one massive thing all the millennials of the western world do have in common, which could have huge implications for the workplace and the world (if we are not too late).

A child born in the West today has a more than 50% chance of living to be over 105. By contrast, a child born over a century ago had a less than 1% chance of living to that age. Astonishing isn’t it, when you pause to think about it.

That’s the hook at the centre of Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s recent book, The 100-year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. It caught my eye over the Christmas holiday and I was intrigued by how often it seemed relevant to the discussions I was having with people. The authors argue, and I agree, that “behavioural shifts compared to past generations…reflect the realization of a long life rather than any mysterious ‘Millennial’ or ‘Gen Y’ effect resulting from the specific year in which they were born.”

It starts with pensions. The three stage life model of learn, work, retire is just not viable if half of us are likely to live to over a hundred. Even if it was, what will the state retirement age be by the time we get there – 75? 85? And how many people would be happy in the same career and same office for 60 years…

Faced with the reality of how long we millennials are going to have to work, it makes perfect sense that we would approach life very differently. Gratton and Scott suggest a new “multi-stage life with a variety of careers, breaks and transitions” and – consider yourselves warned leaders of the corporate world – “a battleground akin to the battles about the length of the working week and working conditions that marked the Industrial Revolution”. Demands for flexibility and purpose at work could be just the beginning.

And the 100-year life could well lie behind our concern for the environment too. 2100 – when scientists forecast that more severe climate change impacts will become a reality – was the distant future for our parents. Many young people in rich parts of the world will live to see the 1st January 2100 and large numbers of our children will. The next century no longer has the remoteness it did for our parents and we human beings are much better at being worried about issues that will actually affect our own immediate families.

Taken together, maybe we are right to be hopeful that the young will provide an impetus for the change in business and society that we so desperately need.

It’s not to do with our millennial births but rather because of how long we are likely to live.

It’s time the leaders of today’s businesses focused on what those with 100-year lives ahead are going to need, want and desire to make them fulfilling ones.

Michael Hilton
On Purpose Associate (and millennial)