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Having a healthy relationship with work in midlife and beyond

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Are you one of the many women feeling nervous about returning to an in-person workplace post-pandemic? It may surprise you to hear that other common midlife issues likely compound your worries about the "new" working world.

 

The good news - as a result of population aging, women over 55 will constitute more than one-third of those hired to join the workforce by 2026. This trend can benefit companies in many ways. Surveys have shown that there is a perception that older women have more talent, experience, and better communication than younger workers. More mature workers also tend to report higher job satisfaction, which may lead to a happier team overall. [1]

 

Here are the challenges:

 

Unfortunately, there are many unaddressed workplace issues for women in midlife and beyond. Gendered ageism (the overlay of age on gender bias) potentially impacts over half the workforce – women over 45. Only a limited number of companies address gendered ageism in their diversity, equity, and inclusion policies. [1] Mature workers are more likely to be laid-off and face other involuntary leaves from employment. Older women also are less likely to be called back for a second interview and have more overall employment rejections than men.

 

Aging women face an additional challenge that comes with a change in their looks; as a result, many women feel pressure to manipulate their appearance to look younger to stay competitive.

 

As a result of gendered ageism, many women also hide age-related lifestyle and health changes, especially the impacts of menopause; this includes embarrassment with vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes), a dip in confidence, memory issues, fatigue, and problems with regular sleep schedules. As women enter the menopausal transition, they also are at increased risk for chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and stroke, high blood pressure. [2]

 

Recent studies have shown that when menopausal symptoms are unacknowledged in the workplace, women also report less job satisfaction, less workplace engagement, and an intention to leave the workforce earlier. Many mid-life women do not report health or lifestyle issues to managers because of embarrassment, perceived lack of acceptance, or fear of job loss. Along with physical issues, many mid-life women face the almost impossible expectations of a "work-life" balance while caring for both older children and aging parents.

 

The impact of workplace taboos related to aging, compounded with competing life demands, can also impact midlife productivity, workplace retention, and employers in other ways, including:

 

  • Cost: In a large US study of over a quarter of a million women in the workplace, researchers found that untreated vasomotor symptoms (e.g., night sweats, hot flushes) cost employers over $370,000,000 in direct health and indirect workplace costs. [3]
  • Early retirement: When life demands are combined with menopausal challenges, many women feel that they have no choice but to leave the workforce earlier than intended; women retire on average three years earlier than men.

 

What can your employer do? 

 

Many studies recommend taking a multi-pronged approach to support midlife women in the workplace, including:[4]

 

  • Making menopause a visible and acceptable topic at work
  • Providing manager menopause awareness training
  • Adopting a holistic approach to support women in midlife
  • Allowing access to temperature regulation (e.g., access to desk fans)
  • Providing flexible start times to support women who have sleep challenges
  • Providing manager menopause awareness training
  • Ensuring that EAPs that are sensitive to and trained in the midlife transition
  • In particular, researchers recommend that employers develop health promotion programs that include education about aging, menopause, and health, to empower women to manage their symptoms.
  • Along with wellness programs, forming informal networks for social support is vital.

 

Workplace programs that recognize the unique health challenges in midlife women need to have a comprehensive approach. Programs should include specialized physical activity offerings designed for those with changes in bone health, balance, strength, and cardiovascular conditioning and also address stress management, caregiver stress, and confidence-building. Carefully designed workplace health programs address chronic disease risk and acknowledge and support mid-life women to manage both physical symptoms and life stressors with more confidence.

 

Retaining women through the aging process can result in cost savings over hiring younger talent. Employers can keep and recruit valuable midlife female employees by addressing some basic needs related to aging. Ultimately, mid-life women help shape workplace culture and improve business outcomes.

 

What can you do? Help women "age-in-place" in their careers by forwarding this post to your employer. Or, just send us a request, and we can send you more information about our customized workplace solutions.

 

[1] Sophia Ahn and Amelia Costigan, Trend Brief: Gendered Ageism (Catalyst, 2019).

[2] Hardy, C., Thorne, E., Griffiths, A., & Hunter, M. S. (2018). Work outcomes in midlife women: the impact of menopause, work stress and working environment. Women’s Midlife Health, 4, 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40695-018-0036-z

[3] Sarrel, P., Portman, D., Lefebvre, P., Lafeuille, M.-H., Grittner, A. M., Fortier, J., Gravel, J., Duh, M. S., & Aupperle, P. M. (2015). Incremental direct and indirect costs of untreated vasomotor symptoms. Menopause (New York, N.Y.), 22(3), 260–266. https://doi.org/10.1097/GME.0000000000000320

[4] Jack, G., Riach, K., Bariola, E., Pitts, M., Schapper, J., & Sarrel, P. (2016). Menopause in the workplace: What employers should be doing. Maturitas, 85, 88–95. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2015.12.006

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