How Will Immortality Change the Nature of the Workplace?

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The thought of immortality has a long history. Story after story, fable after fable, and religion after religion has dealt with the thought of being able to live forever. What if humans could live forever? How would that change the nature of the workplace?

Medical advances

In the 1950s, 60s and 70s we spoke in terms of “lifetime” employment when someone retired after 40 years with one company. As we got into the 1980s and beyond we stopped talking in those terms and it became fodder for a news article when an employee reached 40 years of employment with one company. We started getting rid of “baby boomers” as they aged because they could no longer perform. We understood that a major part of our employee population was going to retire and eventually die. It is just they was things are, or is it?

Scientists today are working on a “cure for death.” That may sound crazy but it is not as farfetched as one might think. Diseases are being cured. Thomas Frey thinks that by the year 2032, a mere 18 years from now, medical advances will have cured all disease or at least make them manageable. Medical advances are occurring daily that are allowing new body parts to be manufactured, such as the vaginas made for four women. Ears have been grown, skin is grown and used to replace fire damaged skin, and other organs are just over the horizon.  It is not too far off, 2050, that you could conceivably be able to replace your entire body for a newer, younger model based on your genetics.

What if lifelong employment was forever?

So what if your employee population never got older, never wore out, never got sick how would that change the nature of your workplace? Would we start keeping people for 60 or 70 years or even beyond? How will we combine this workforce with one made up primarily of robots that have artificial intelligence? Here are some of the workplace issues I perceive with this scenario:

  • Making sure you select correctly to begin with, because you are going to live with them along time;
  • Having to change the structure of the company because the traditional hierarchy doesn’t work, people will never get ahead when the boss stays there for 60 years. Zappos is already experimenting with this idea in their holacracy move;
  • You think motivation is a struggle now?
  • What type of work will we have them do?
  • How will we change the reward system?
  • What kind of government oversight will be dealing with then?

I really don’t have any answers for these questions. But we will have to have them starting soon. Although 2050 sounds really far away it is closer than many of your birthdays are in the past. So put on that thinking cap and start imagining what the world of work is going to look like for you.

Oh by the way, you think the HR lady is cranky now wait until she has been doing that same job for 50 years…..

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