Lynda Gratton: Adult-adult work relationships in multi-stage lives


I wonder what organisations this applies to - certainly (sadly) not to many of the organisations that I meet.

Read More Simon Hollington
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The relationship between employer and employee is moving from ‘parent-child’ to ‘adult-adult’

These adult-adult relationships are based more on conversation, commitments and accountability. So this brings honest open conversation much more to the fore. These honest open conversations are ever more important as working lives become longer and more varied. This puts particular emphasis on thinking carefully about the future.

In our thinking we emphasise both tangible and intangible assets. Some of the intangible assets, such as remaining productive and being able to change and transform, really require networks to be created. These are networks of supportive peers, but also networks of diversity with a wide range of people. So talking to employees about these intangible assets is really important. That’s one of the reasons we designed the asset diagnostic that can be found at It is intended to help people understand what they are doing now to build, maintain, or deplete their assets. This type of insight is crucial to open conversations.

We see changes for every generational group. There is a real shift right now from a three-stage life, consisting of education, full-time work, then full-time retirement, to something that’s much more multi-stage. Multi-stage lives require a great deal more thought and consideration. We see new stages already emerging, for example an exploration stage, a portfolio stage and a stage of being an independent producer. The stages are age-agnostic in the sense that people will embark on them at any time. So we don’t see any great difference between age cohorts. Having said that, people in their 20s are much clearer that they are going to have a long life and are beginning to prepare for it. Those in midlife are now realising that their working life is likely to extend into the late 60s or early 70s, and that means they have to think more deeply about both their career path and their skill development.

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School


I wonder what organisations this applies to - certainly (sadly) not to many of the organisations that I meet.


I respect Lynda's thinking on this, but I'd rather see the relationship move from parent-child to child-child. Spend much time with adults and you'll soon see that communication is rarely honest and open. Even with our closest friends we try to spin our lives and tell them the stories we want them to hear. If you want real, visceral honesty and communication that reflects a relationship, listen to children talk. You'll hear their aspirations, fears and passions. If they're bored, they'll tell you. If they're tired, they'll let you know. If they think that thing on the side of your nose is gross, they won't shy away from pointing it out. When adults don't get on, they force themselves to be nice and rub along in an atmosphere of ever-increasing stress. When kids don't get on, they don't bottle it up. In an era of the gig economy, the portfolio career and an end to enduring job security, we need to be ready to talk to our employers more like children, and as employers to talk back to our employees the same way.

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