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How longer life spans may change the workplace of tomorrow

Three free meals a day and unlimited snacks. On-site health clinics and complimentary personal fitness classes. Game rooms and nap pods. While definitely not the norm, these are the types of workplace amenities that routinely get mentioned in profiles of great places to work.

As a result, employers today are constantly challenged to enhance their workplace environment in order to both create better work-life balance for their employees and also keep up with the competition. After all, the more options a company can provide to maintain happy and healthy employees, the more productive and loyal those employees will likely be.

Yet the most sought-after on-the-job benefits of the future may not be limited to ergonomic massage chairs and complimentary lattes. Longevity is changing the way we live and is sure to have a profound impact on the way we work as well.

Focus on flexibility

According to the Stanford Center on Longevity, Americans are now living 30 years longer than we did a century ago. This increase in life span is already having an effect on the way that many people view how they live their lives, including their careers and what they expect from their working years. People are beginning to realize that they don’t need to save those extra years for the sole purpose of tacking them on to their retirement. Instead, many now see the opportunity to use that extra time throughout their life, not just at the end of it.

Younger workers are leading this charge, with nearly 7 in 10 millennials saying in the recent Allianz Life Gift of Time study that they would prefer to “explore, experiment and travel” before retirement and follow a different path in terms of how they learn, work, partner and raise families. In addition, when asked to design their ideal longer life, more than half of millennials said they would prefer a more nontraditional path, unique to their interests, where they might work, take breaks, volunteer and try different things — and in no set order.

Why should employers care about this trend?

Flexibility in the workplace is becoming more desirable. Management should be keen to support millennial employees by encouraging regular conversations about career paths, opportunities for new assignments, and if possible, even discussions about how the company can support alternative life goals.

Because millennials tend to have a different view of the traditional school-work-retirement paradigm, it’s important that employers recognize changing attitudes and take steps to offer younger workers new options that might allow for more experimentation on the path to retirement. Although millennials frequently cite the opportunity to get regular pay raises as a reason for job loyalty, it may actually be benefits like job flexibility that keep them around.

Older workers want novelty

But it’s not only millennials who desire alternative work arrangements. Older workers also expressed interest in sampling a different structure for their career path. In fact, more than half of boomers in our study agree that you don’t need to wait until retirement to explore, experiment and travel. Furthermore, many boomers said they want to take advantage of their 30 extra years by being more active in volunteer work.

It’s also true that many older workers today have the desire to transition to an encore career. A good example is Robert De Niro’s character in “The Intern,” demonstrating the importance of avoiding old-school thinking about the energy and capacity of older workers. Boomers may be able to offer a great deal of insight from their experience and tribal knowledge, so it’s important that employers consider different strategies for utilizing their skills and keeping them engaged.

Onus on employers

In addition to their own wishes to establish an alternate career path, Americans are looking to employers to make changes that allow for greater workplace flexibility. Nearly half of all respondents in our survey believe employers need to adapt in the future by doing things like allowing older people to enter (or return to) the workforce, offering more flex time, allowing older people to remain in their positions if they choose, and offering options for people to work longer and retire later, working at a more moderate pace with fewer hours worked during the week.

Perhaps most telling, a solid majority of Americans in the study said they would be willing to retire later if it meant they could have a more flexible, personalized life while they are working, tailored to their individual choices. This supports the idea that employers need to be more proactive in offering employees alternatives for how they can structure their jobs.

Bottom line, it’s clear that many people today have a real desire to think outside the box when it comes to their career and the new opportunities that may come from longer life. Employers need to avoid assumptions about traditional career paths and embrace different options that can make jobs more rewarding, and hopefully more productive.

Suzanne Dowd Zeller is chief human resources officer at Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America. Katie Libbe is vice president of consumer insights for Allianz Life.