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The Great Resignation is just the beginning. We have to prepare ourselves for a post-work world.

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  • A record number of jobs have become remote.
  • This may be the first step into a post-work era of society.
  • It's time we start preparing for this inevitability.
  • Marie-Christine Nizzi is a Research Associate in the Cognitive Science Program at Dartmouth College.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Over 70% of workers want remote work options to continue. Close to eight million Americans left their jobs in April and June alone, seeking more fulfilling positions. Anthony Klotz, professor at Texas A&M University, calls it the "Great Resignation."

The place of work in our lives is rapidly changing, but don't let the current "help wanted" signs fool you: this is only the tremor before a much bigger quake to come.

Fuelled by stay-at-home orders during the Covid-19 pandemic, a record number of jobs have turned remote or contactless, revealing just how much could be done outside of the office. For many of us, moving out of the city to work from home or being replaced by contactless options is just the beginning.

We may look back at this moment as the first slide into the post-work age.

Within a few decades of automation, many of us might be pushed into an abrupt early retirement. And we better prepare for it. The prognosis for those who do not prepare for retirement stands as a stark warning for our mental and physical health. In 2014, economists found that a 1-point increase in unemployment lowers our national well-being [in the US] more than five times more than the same increase in inflation.

The future of work won't just change our schedules or where we live: it will challenge us to redefine the very core of what gives us meaning. I have helped many successful senior executives, veterans, and athletes faced with the sudden transition into post-work life. Here are four keys to better prepare.

First, is time. Increasing your time agency is the first key to preparing yourself and your loved ones for post-work life. Rather than letting work structure your time, plan periods of slow time in your day; first 10 minutes, then an hour, during which you do not jump on every email notification.

Can you give yourself this time to journal or take a walk? Whatever you choose, be present in the moment. Feel your ability to suspend the rush of tasks, build your agency in deciding when to run and when to simply wander. You may discover that you are enjoying your slow time to yourself or by sharing it with a friend. If remote work gives you more flexibility, capitalise on this opportunity to grow your time agency.

Second, is success. Executives often worry that redefining success means lowering their standards. The corporate ladder, promotions, and bonuses act as markers of success in a work-centric world. We expect them to fulfill us through a sense of belonging, purpose, and achievement. But these are externally derived.

Once work no longer provides a horizon to strive for, where will your sense of accomplishment and purpose come from? True success is living a life you will feel satisfied with on your deathbed. To authentically redefine your success, find what you truly care about and dedicate more time to it.

Third, we have identity. Major life transitions shake our identity. Returning to civilian life after military service, retiring from a career as a pro athlete, losing an important job, all challenge us to reinvent ourselves. Building self resilience is a process that few people anticipate. If you do only one thing: take a piece of paper and write down 20 statements describing what makes you who you are.

Now see if you can add statements for each of the eight following facets: what you like and dislike, your psychological characteristics, your physical traits, your social and group identities, your demographics, your activities, what you possess or have accomplished, your memories and hopes for the future. Your self is dynamic: embrace the challenge to explore new facets.

The fourth key is meaning. In a work-centric view, value is indexed on productivity and time spent with loved-ones or relaxing is referred to as "down" time. We can operate a key shift in mindset by learning from cultures where elders act as the glue that ties generations together, the centre of social networks, rather than perishing at the margins of "productive" society. In these cultures, personal growth, grounding, and a sense of purpose are derived from our place in our community and time spent together. To build meaning outside of work, try prioritising connection and service to others.

The great resignation is but a tremor announcing a much larger change in our relationship with work. The quake of post-work life is coming sooner than we prepared for and it will shake work-centric societies to their core, challenging us to rethink our culture and practices to invest in values that are not measured on a 9-to-5 scale.

As rapidly aging societies, where most of us will soon not be able to rely on work to provide a sense of who we are and how we contribute to our community, it's high time we started preparing.

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