BY Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinha

Recently, I read a thought-provoking book titled ‘The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity’ written by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, both professors at the London Business School.

Based on the fact that throughout the world people’s lifespans are increasing, Gratton and Scott explain that we should all know the challenges we’ll face as a result of humankind’s increasing longevity. They argue that we need to make intelligent choices to ensure that we look on this greater life expectancy as a gift.

In the past, it was considered normal for Sri Lankans to retire at 55, and rely on being supported by their state pension, provident fund and/or children – before dying of ‘old age’ in the next decade or so. For most workers, the standard age of retirement was (and in many countries, still is) 55 and official extensions are required for those who wish to work longer.

These days, most Sri Lankans who retire in good health at 55 can expect to live another 20 years or more. In more developed nations, it’s been estimated that a child born today has a 50 percent chance of living to be over 100 years old! In 1971, Japan had only 339 centenarians; by 2017, the number had grown to 67,824.

But it’s not merely an excess of centenarians that society will have to prepare itself for. Those of you who are in the early stages of your professional or business careers can realistically expect to live longer than your parents did.

So as societies as well as individuals, we need to change our perceptions of and preconceptions about old age.

When they’re young, working people may look forward to the day they can retire, and not have to face the daily grind of waking up early, commuting to work, working all day at the same desk and facing a long commute back home.

But statistics reveal that when people approach retirement, many say they’d prefer to work until they’re 70 or 75 years of age. They don’t necessarily want to work full-time at the same job – rather, perhaps part-time in a different job. Continuing to work not only provides them with the social benefit of meeting and mixing with colleagues, but also being useful and increasing their disposable incomes.

To utilise the skills and experience acquired during our working lives, we must maintain good health – particularly vision, hearing, memory and physical fitness; and we’ll usually need to retrain ourselves.

Gratton and Scott contend that a drastic expansion of adult education and training is required, so that working people can combine the experience and problem solving skills gleaned from their previous jobs with new knowledge and skills in other fields.

Far from being perceived as a threat to younger workers (for example, by blocking their promotions), retirees could make ideal trainers and mentors to juniors in their original workplaces. Furthermore, an available and teachable workforce of older persons can be trained to move into different fields of private enterprise too.

In the 21st century, people will continue to be productive until much later in their lives. So while they’re young, they need to actively preserve good health, continuously learn new skills and invest in living longer.