One has often marvelled at the many grey-haired gentlemen and gentlewomen, with their day-job days behind them, who are still willing to work. Keeping aside the angst of retirement, senior citizens are gung-ho about work. Any kind of work. So, is it time to shift the official prime earning years to ‘40 to 75’? After all, enthusiasm is one thing that the boss is always on the look-out for. It’s an idea rapidly gaining ground and shape. Research in American workplaces has also shown that among graduates, there is little difference in the health of a 55-year-old and a 75-year-old. An earlier survey in Britain of 1,600 workers aged between 16 and 69 confirmed perceptions that “the traditional model of career progression no longer suits many employees”. It went on to record that “while 20-somethings are discontented, it is workers in their 30s — supposedly at their career peak — who feel under most pressure”. Tell us about it.
So, where does that leave us? With a very happy population, one would hazard to guess. Running concurrently at the back of the working young between late 20s and early 50s is a distinct feeling of not being where they should be. The ‘guilt’ of working mothers is stuff legends are made of. The guilt of young men not doing house chores is the other, forcing the poor ‘I’m home, honey!’ man to think about burning his jockstraps in masculinist protest, but only after he has turned on the heavy-spin button on the washing machine and changed the little ’un’s diapers. There’s no hiding the fact that the anti-stress industry is milking the stress and strain of such human industry. For the average 40-year-old, mental gymnastics is not only put on display while coordinating the antics of rebellious teenagers but also with mutinous co-workers on the deck. The last couple of decades, those in the prime of their career have vainly tried to pack in more and more in their sorry lives. The grind, we are told, continues till you retire, when, paradoxically, you are free to ‘work’. The children are grown-up and gone, old parents can be tucked away in the attic with less fuss than before, and — the best part — society does not expect you to work any more. Surely, these are ideal conditions for optimum productivity?
It is time that the idea of redistributing work in chronological terms is given serious thought. With longer and healthier lifespans, there is little reason why a person’s work-life should be truncated. At the same time, we must loosen up and be far more flexible in the manner that the younger workforce has to function today. If anything, the idea should even embrace the freeing of labour from age barriers. For that to happen, we only need to free our minds.