HSM Spotlight: Shifting to a Multistage Model of Life

I graduated from university on the wrong side of a global recession. Qualifying as an ‘elder millennial,’ I went into school just before digital skills became a standard of curriculum and just after having a degree in any subject would guarantee gainful employment.

This means, like many of my late-80’s cohorts, I studied the wrong thing and took out large loans to pay for it. Then the economy sank into the Great Recession.

Given these circumstances, I took what would previously have been considered an unusual path for someone just entering ‘working age’. Rather than trying to start a career, I took on a series of casual jobs which allowed me the freedom to travel and live abroad for much of my twenties. I looked at this time as a sort of reverse-retirement or pre-career sabbatical, a way to self-explore, learn, and grow before settling down to focus on a profession.

After returning to education years later, I looked to properly enter the workforce and begin building my career. I had no reason to worry: my education was sufficiently impressive, and I did not mind starting at the bottom. I had demonstrated grit and self-sufficiency in the breadth of my work and life experience.

It was only when CV after CV was met with no response that I realised how challenging I’d made it for myself. As I was now looking to begin a career, my competition was people fresh out of school: younger, more digitally savvy, without an unconventional work history to justify.

This made me think about my age, and how it relates to my life stage, and whether the two still map neatly on to one another. A change in circumstance such as a global recession put into stark contrast how little old models of doing things have relevance today. Can we still compartmentalise the human life into three rigid stages of education (5-22 years) > work (22-65 years) > retirement (65+ years)?

People are living longer and the global pandemic has forced many to re-evaluate their priorities. Working for 45 years for 2-3 companies then retiring on an adequate pension is no longer viable for those whose pensions cannot support longer retirements. People may re-enter the workforce after retiring or reduce their hours to start a side hustle. Many will take time off to open their own business or care for elderly parents or young children. Or people may simply want to take a career break.

At HSM advisory we recognise the importance of shifting from the linear three-stage model to a multistage model of life. This helps us embrace a more flexible reality where people spread activities such as leisure, work, learning, sabbaticals and caring across their whole life.

Organisations can embrace this shift to a multistage model in four important ways:

Disconnect age from stage: we can no longer make assumptions about people’s work preferences based solely on their age.

Build flexibility: people are now looking for more flexibility and opportunities to accelerate, pause or re-join their careers. This can be part-time work, career breaks or time off for personal enrichment.

Redesign work: Rather than solely focusing on performance, organisations can incorporate more people measures – such as fulfilment – as indicators of success at work.

Rethink retirement: Retirement doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’; organisations should engage their people in a co-creational approach to planning for their future. Provide people with options so they will feel a sense of autonomy and control over their future.

Ultimately, shifting to a multistage model of life is about creating space for people to grow, develop, and try new ways of being. This means challenging our long-held assumptions about how people choose to fit work into their lives. By welcoming a diversity of life experiences, particularly in hiring and recruiting practices, organisations can access untapped talent, support retention, drive engagement and satisfaction, and embrace new ways of working.

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