Remember when the gold watch was a metaphor for retirement from a corporate culture that cared for its workers during those years between wedding and Winnebago? A company took you in after college and for 40 years gave you Christmas bonuses and ignored your martini breath after lunch. In exchange, at 65 you left with a Rolex or a gold-plated Timex, depending on pay scale.
Like other '50s myths, this one was never really true. Even 20 years ago, only 7.7% of men in the private sector had worked at the same company for 25 years. In an era when computer geeks swap jobs as readily as hair colors, job loyalty will continue to decline, at least as long as the job market remains strong. If current trends continue, by next year the average middle-aged worker will spend less than eight years at the same company.
Where will all these workers flock to in the coming years? Many of them, particularly those in information-based businesses like banking and the media, will telecommute (or, to be annoying, "telework"). For them, job titles will largely vanish--but so will weekends, or whatever is left of them. Technology will enable many of these people to become totally free agents, working at home for one or more companies on a more fluid schedule tailored to their needs.
And when will we retire? Many people 65 and over will probably find themselves in demand, hired as consultants by companies facing the giant labor shortage coming when baby boomers retire (and the concomitant knowledge gap coming when ever younger workers take their places). These older workers will return from retirement or, better yet, never retire. Already nearly 70% of us expect to work after age 65. The question is, Which is more stifling, the paternalistic company with its gold watch as a reward for lifetime service, or the new paradigm: all work, all the time, all your life?
--By John Cloud