The 2021 Census and Making Your Future Work

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The most recent census in England and Wales was conducted in 2021, relatively recently. Census Day was during lockdown and the pandemic. Many people were on furlough or working from home. But there are still some very interesting things that emerged, which I think make a big difference when we start to think about the opportunities for us to make the most of our working lives as we get older.

As I reviewed some of the Labour Market Survey information, there was one key thing that struck me:

In England and Wales for people over 16 and in employment, more than 20% were in professional occupations, 5.6 million.

Implications beyond 50?

This statistic suggests that if we maintain our mental well-being and we work in environments where we can better manage stress, then, as professionals, we’re not dependent on our physical capability. 20% of the population can continue to work into our latter years… if we want to!

However, for this 20% in professional occupations, the professions are evolving faster than they’ve ever evolved before. Increasingly, they will be dealing with technology-enabled capability. More and more they will be relying upon wisdom and not just skill and knowledge. In the future, very specialist skills will be supplanted by artificial intelligence.

So, what does that mean for us?

As professionals looking to work into our latter years, I would suggest we need to do more of those things which are particularly difficult for technology and artificial intelligence to replace us with.

We can build relationships, bring wisdom, draw on our own personal presence, and collaborate to evolve and adapt. We need to seek to work in a flexible, dynamic and emergent team environment, rather than being a sole practitioner. We must position ourselves for roles where collaboration, creativity and innovation are more difficult to replace with technology and AI.

Additionally, over three and a half million people were involved in associate professional technical occupations, 13% about 3.7 million. Then there’s another 13% or so, 3.5 million, working as Managers, Directors and Senior Officials. Managers, Directions & Senior Officials, I believe also have the opportunity to transition. However for those in associate professional and technical occupations, unless they continue to shift and flex, bring new skills and new ways of working, they are likely to be left behind. Their only option may be to take early retirement, with all the implications of poverty, frustration and diminishing physical and mental health in their later years.

Home and Hybrid Working

There is something else that I was struck by. Of those 16 years and over in employment, 8.7 million, 31%, worked mainly at or from home in the week before census day on the 21st March 2021. Now, perhaps, that has been skewed by Covid, but it is a very large percentage, and I think it helps us to recognise that as we move into our latter years, there are opportunities for us to continue to work from home. The fact that travel or mobility is more difficult will no longer be a barrier to future employment.

Excessive Hours

The final thing that struck me from Census Day on the 21st March 2021, was the percentage of people who worked 49 hours or more a week. Of those who worked full-time, more than 3 million worked 49 hours or more a week, 11% of the full-time working population.

This was higher in England than in Wales. Many people are working extended hours. As we get older this becomes less and less attractive. Now is the time to look at how you can move from a workstyle where you’re working 50 hours plus a week, to a 4-day week. You then have flexibility to build the kind of future you’d like to build.

Even if you’re in the 60% of working people who work 31-to-48-hour weeks, you’re probably at the upper end of that. A 4-day week of 7.5-hour days is a 30 h week and 59% of the population is working more than a 4-day week.


As I review the census, I see some really interesting indicators of what the state of working life is today and what that will mean for us as we get older tomorrow.

Yes, because 20% of us are in professional occupations, and another 13% or so are in Managerial or Senior Official occupations, we can continue to work into later years, if our employment work style permits us to.

Yes, because 30% of people were working from home on Census Day 2021, you can continue to work even if you’ve got limited mobility.

Finally, even though more than 70% of the population are working in excess of a 4-day week, 11% of the population are working more than 49 hours or more a week.

Commit now to building a four-day week work style, 30 hours a week, from which you can develop a long-term sustainable working life.


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.