In short, we’re sprinting through a marathon. We’ve sped up the pace, extended the finish line, and thrown in more obstacles along the way. Most careers are now 50-plus years, with few opportunities to focus on family and other responsibilities. And the maxim holds true: if you try to sprint through a 50-plus-year career, at some point you’re going to collapse and crash.
We’re seeing those crashes right now. Many industries are experiencing higher turnover than ever before, employees are dropping out of the workforce altogether, and there are negative health outcomes for those who push themselves too hard for too long. Surveys from groups as diverse as Allstate Insurance and The Shriver Report have told us that people are exhausted with the status quo and fed up with having to choose between work and family. Employees across the spectrum say they desperately need career paths that look more like their lives. Not a straight and narrow sprint to the finish, but a shifting pace that speeds up and slows down as life puts different obstacles and opportunities in front of us.
This means different things for different people. Maybe it means slowing the pace in the middle of your career, or adjusting your pace throughout so you have time for other commitments. Maybe it means taking a break to tend to family concerns and then getting back in the race full-time. Maybe it’s adapting the way you work altogether through telecommuting or job sharing. But one thing is clear: unless something significant changes in the structure of the workplace so that people have more say over when, where and how they work – more flexibility – we’re going to see an awful lot more people collapsing before they reach the finish line.