The post that considers what the future of work looks like in 2030. How do we escape the relentless monotony of employment?
I recently read a statistic that 85% of the jobs there will be in 2030 have not yet been created. What do you think these jobs are, and which ones will no longer exist? What does this mean for education? What will offices look like in 11 years? Will people continue to commute to a physical office or will remote work and digital nomadism take over? Finally, how do you think this will affect the overall global economic balance?
For this one I’ve decided to focus in on how we’ll work rather than what we’ll be doing. I’ve never been very good at predicting things. I’m sure that when these new jobs come into existence we’ll all nod sagely and say “well that was obvious”, but I haven’t the foggiest at the moment. I’m the sort of person that doesn’t guess film twists even when everyone is insisting you could see it a mile off.
Changes borne from necessity thanks to an ageing population
To make a couple of fairly obvious observations: we are living longer (albeit research suggests that may now have plateaued) and there is a whopping pension crisis coming. For most people this means working longer. We’re faced with the depressing prospect of working for 50+ years.
Even for a would-be early retiree like me, I’m still expecting to have to work until my early 50s (assuming I stay in my current profession). Positively ancient by the standards of the FIRE movement, but still probably about 20 years earlier than most in my generation will manage.
I look at my parents who are a couple of years from retirement. From the boomer generation, they are looking to retire after about 40 years of work. And they are completely burnt out. These last couple of years are really seeing them limping to the finish line. If you told them they had another 10 years to go I’m not sure how they’d cope.
Granted there are a lot less manual labour jobs than in the past. Working in an office is a hell of a lot less physically draining than working in a mine or on a construction site. But mental drain is a thing too.
Exacerbating effects of the inevitable rise in state pension age
Those in the UK will probably be familiar with the recent High Court fight of the so-called “WASPI women” and the Back to 60 campaign. These are women born in the 1950s who found the age at which they can claim state pension rise from 60 to 65. Some women challenged this on the basis that the changes were implemented too quickly and without sufficient warning.
The women lost the judicial review challenge. I make no comment on the judgment and whether it was right or wrong (the issues are too complex to cover here). However, what I was struck by when reading the stories of women affected was that none of them were about people who would/could have saved more and still retired at 60 had they been given more warning. The narrative was almost always along the lines of “I’m exhausted from working for 40 years and want to retire”.
This is a completely understandable sentiment but it is not a unique situation to this group. As the state pension age inevitably increases, the feeling of reaching the end of your tether with working and feeling as though there is no way out will also increase.
Working into your 70s is all very well if you love your job…
There are some people in my office still working well into their 70s. Good for them. I’m glad they love what they do enough to keep going (albeit it blocks the way for younger people to progress in the firm, which will be a difficult Catch-22 of people needing to work later). But for most the reality is that working is more like the depictions in Office Space or Fight Club.
And let’s not start the bullshit that everyone just needs to live their best life by becoming a freelancer or entrepreneur. It’s great if that has worked out for you. But not everyone can make a living this way.
I’m the first to admit I’m a worker bee. A white collar worker bee, but a worker bee nonetheless.
Sometimes I find myself swept up by personal finance Twitter about how by trading my time for money I’m something of a failure. I think long and hard about business ideas, hustles, and ways to make freelancing viable given my financial obligations. And I come up blank. I have no great ideas.
What’s this got to do with the future of work?
So, looping back around to the point of the post.
I’m a worker bee. Most of us are worker bees. We have to accept this. The question for the future is how to make being a worker bee palatable for 50+ years. How do you get through that without mental and/or physical exhaustion?
I think it involves many of the things that people are dipping their toes into now. Except they will become near-essential to make a long career feasible:
Working from home (of course)
As Ms ZiYou points out in her response to this thought experiment, frequent and regular working from home may become essential for environmental reasons. But it is also a burnout thing.
The single biggest thing making me miserable in my job is commuting – and I don’t even have a long commute. I looked into working from home but my employer makes it very difficult. You need to put forward a business case. I think it will be standard in future to work from home most of the time. You’ll have to actually justify being in the office.
I look forward to this; I will just have to get over my fear of the telephone.
Flexibility as to how you work
I’m a night owl. Do any other night owls resent the fact that we’re seen as lazy for working two hours later than our early bird colleagues that get in two hours earlier?
I appreciate that as an employee there has to be some structure to when you work; clients wouldn’t be too happy to work to your schedule if you work from 3pm to 11pm. If you’re a shift worker your hours are probably fairly non-negotiable. But as an office worker there surely has to be some wiggle room.
I’d also like to see smaller changes, like being able to wear what you want to the office (if you don’t have a client meeting). The idea that you need to be in a suit to be an effective worker is ridiculous and old-fashioned. If people are going to be working longer it’s a reasonable request that they be physically comfortable doing so.
One would expect employees will get more demanding. Their 50 year careers aren’t going to be with one employer. So if one employer won’t offer the work patterns that they want they’ll find another.
I don’t just mean making a choice of less hours for lower pay. I’m really hoping the four day work week (as a standard national working week) becomes a reality. And hopefully it will happen in my working life.
Most of us (at least, those of us working one job with regular office hours) could get our work done in four days. Most jobs involve an awful lot of faff. It leads to a frustrating, time-wasting existence that just won’t cut the mustard if you’re working until 75.
Some industries are already doing all of the above with aplomb, of course. But even the more conservative professions will need to follow suit.
When I really think about it, maybe most professions have already adapted to the above and it is only a stuffy few that are lagging behind the times.
Perhaps this post should be about the future of working in the legal profession. I also fully acknowledge this post is geared towards a future for office workers. It’s the main working environment I know, so I don’t feel informed enough to discuss the future of work in other types of workplace.
When will change happen?
Will all of the above happen by 2030? It doesn’t seem like it should be a stretch given some of this is already happening. It will just be a question of how far it has gone by 2030. Will we all be fully flexible, working wherever we want by then?
I’m hoping we’re quite far advanced by that point so that I’m not in the “missed the boat” generation (yes, I’m talking about the dreaded millennials here). Will the flexible changes be widespread and broad enough to truly affect our careers? We’re too young to benefit from a state pension at a half-way decent age. Let’s hope we’re not too old to truly benefit from a fully flexible workforce.
Maybe the next generation are even more screwed
I don’t want to play the millennial victim card and suggest we’re the only ones screwed over. The next generation may be even more screwed. Living in some sort of dystopian hell where everyone works more and more, programming day in day out to meet the technology needs of the future.
And this is where my generation really are ill-equipped. As Saving Ninja’s own response to this experiment suggests, technology will be where many of the job vacancies lie in the future.
Young people know this and may make their educational choices accordingly.
I even notice the difference between my friends my age, who started (and graduated from) university before the recession, compared to those friends who chose their university subjects after. There are a lot more tech and engineering choices in the latter group.
Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published in 1964. I always remember that Charlie Bucket’s father worked screwing caps onto toothpaste tubes in a factory and then lost his job due to automation. By the end of the novel he’d found a better job fixing the machines that screwed on the caps.
So I guess the expectation that machines will take human jobs isn’t a new one. Let’s hope there’s a place for the human mind in the future of work beyond coding – otherwise my future looks rather bleak.
Check out the responses of other bloggers via a running list on Saving Ninja’s page.