The future of work

People are living, and working for longer, causing them to think differently about their health and wellbeing. Rob Edmundson, Director of Product and Digital at BUPA, looks at the future of work patterns and what society and employers can do to keep up with changes to the workforce demographic:

In the early part of the 20th century, people would be lucky to survive into their mid-fifties. Figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that today average global life expectancy has risen to 71.4 years.

With greater focus on prevention and wellbeing, a trend is emerging for individuals not only to live longer but also to work a lot longer, too. There are already some inspirational examples of people enjoying professional success far beyond normal retirement age. Investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett is still active in business at the age of 93 , while in the UK Dr Bill Frankland was still practicing as an immunologist well into his ninties and died in 2020 at 108 still incredibly active. Do these examples suggest that working into your 70s, 80s and beyond could become the norm in the not-too-distant future? If yes, then as employers we’ll all need to consider the impact for the workplace and start to prepare.

London Business School professors Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton certainly thing so. They argue that many of us – and certainly our children – should expect to make it to a century, suggesting that we now live and work in the era of the “100 year life”.

The Future of Work – BUPA & London Business School Predictions

One clear finding is that current human resource predictions will need to evolve. Employees will quickly realise that they either cannot afford to retire at the same age as their parents did or want to remain in the workplace for much longer to maintain their social networks, health and mental fitness.

Equally, employees entering the workplace for the first time will do so in the knowledge that their working life could extend 50 or 60 years – or longer – which will undoubtedly change their approach to their career and choice of jobs or employers.

For organisations to remain competitive and to enable people to thrive in this new work environment, new ways to accommodate and manage a more age-diverse workforce will be needed to avoid disruption to their business activities.

Multi-stage work life

Typically people divide their life into three neat and traditional stages: education, career and retirement. But as more of us live to be 100 years old, this will be replaced by a new outlook based on a “multi-stage existence”, with lots of different phases or career transitions. Even in their 40s or 50s people might consider a significant change of career, given that decades of employment still lie ahead. Many people will need to pivot from declining Industries and retrain in their second career. The future of work is about adapting and being flexible and you need energy to achieve that and good health. Healthy body = Healthy mind 

Flexible and personalised work benefits

Employers are facing greater diversity, in which the proportion of older workers will continue increase. There will also be a greater flow of joiners and leavers, following more transient career paths. While a one-size-fits-all approach still works for some businesses, it is unlikely to remain fit for purpose for much longer. Benefits for older employees might include more flexible working, sabbaticals, financial education and tailored health plans.

Focus on wellbeing and fitness outside work

People often state that they don’t see health as a priority, until something goes wrong. But the prospect of living for an extra 20 years, ideally in good physical and mental shape, may sharpen an individuals focus on staying fitter for longer. More and more people are quitting smoking, exercising regularly, improving diet.

The Figure below llustrates the association between specific factors at age 70 years and the probability that a man would live to age 90 years. If he did not smoke and had normal blood pressure and weight (BMI <25), no diabetes, and a moderate exercise habit (2-4 times per week), his probability of living an additional 20 years was 54%. If he had a sedentary lifestyle, however, his probability was only 44%. If also hypertensive, obese, or a smoker, his probability of achieving a 90-year life span was reduced to 36%, 26%, and 22%, respectively. With 3 adverse factors (eg, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and diabetes), his probability was only 14%, and it was negligible (4%) with 5 factors.

Probability of an additional 20-year survival to age 90 years for a 70-year-old man, according to the presence of 0 to 5 modifiable adverse factors at baseline, including smoking, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and sedentary lifestyle, or their common clustering.

Medical, Technological and social factors driving an aging workforce

Financial Need

Longer life expectancies combined with falling birth rates are making it increasingly difficult for pension funds to provide sufficient income in retirement. A job may help fill the gap.


Artificial intelligence and robotics mean fewer people are required to undertake hard physical work, while communications technology makes commuting unnecessary. Jobs in the growing service and IT sectors are less dependent on manual dexterity, so older people are able to remain in employment as long as they retain their mental capacity.


Many people enjoy – and benefit from – the social aspects of work and the feeling of being useful.


Awareness of the steps needed to achieve a healthy lifestyle, and of its impact on longevity, means individuals are staying fitter for longer.

Medical Advancement

Improvements to healthcare, access to new drugs and the sophisticated monitoring of key metrics such as blood chemistry and physical activity will help people to prolong their lives while maintaining independence.

Source: BUPA, 2017


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