By 2020, one in three workers in the UK will be over 50, and in the next 10 years, there will be 13.5 million vacancies and only 7 million school and college leavers to fill them…. who do you think will fill the rest?

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Do you know that the fastest growing demographic in the UK workplace is midlife women, with 4.3 million female workers over 50?  Despite the fact that companies and organisations are beginning to recognise and act on things such as equal pay for women and maternity rights, many are little prepared for the needs of midlife women in the 40 to 60 age bracket.

Not only are companies and organisations unprepared, so it would seem are many women!  How can this be when it is a stage of life that ALL women will experience?  In a series of surveys carried out by Maryon Stewart on the impact of menopause in the 21st century, which asked more than 1,100 women how its symptoms have affected their home lives, relationships and careers, it revealed that an astounding 96 per cent felt unprepared for menopause, with well over two-thirds admitting it came as a huge shock.

The surveys went on to show that the physical impact of menopause can be completely overwhelming for many: 80 per cent of women said that they suffer from tiredness; 77 percent have hot flushes and night sweats; 68 per cent experience aches and pains; and 65 per cent suffer with poor concentration and anxiety; and nearly half of the women said they felt depressed.

In respect of the workplace, however, the effect of these symptoms on midlife women is worrying.  Almost half said they would find it hard to tell senior management or close colleagues that they are struggling, with 54 per cent concerned that admitting this would make them seem less capable.  Shockingly, 29 per cent said that speaking out about their struggles would make them feel inferior to male colleagues, and 45 per cent said their boss would not understand.

With significant advances for women in the workplace, isn’t it depressing that menopause remains such a taboo subject.

Thankfully, some organisations are recognising the needs of menopausal women.  For example, Leicestershire County Council, with over half of its employees being women over the age of 45, has worked to raise the awareness of the impact of menopause, made reasonable adjustments and offer menopausal women the opportunity to receive support at work.

Another organisation beginning to better support menopausal women is Nottinghamshire Police, by ensuring that they have access to extra uniforms, time out to have showers and they provide fans. 

And recently, Channel 4 introduced a Menopause Policy. The policy will support menopausal women who experience symptoms such as hot flushes, anxiety and fatigue. They will also give women access to flexible working arrangements and paid leave if they feel unwell because of the side-effects.

The broadcaster hopes to end stigma around the menopause by encouraging a better understanding of it among staff, including line managers, and facilitating a more open work environment for those transitioning through it.

In October this year, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) unveiled a manifesto for Menopause at Work, citing that menopause is not only a women’s issue, it is a health as well as a business issue. The CIPD manifesto calls to appoint a menopause ambassador in every government department to raise awareness and advocate for women who are going through menopause.

Obviously, more companies and organisations need to take heed of Leicestershire County Council, Nottinghamshire Police and Channel 4, as the impact of menopause on some midlife women can be so overwhelming and detrimental that it can undermine their confidence in seeking promotions, presenting them with another ‘glass ceiling’. 

With 4.3 million female workers over 50, and many more over 40, something needs to be done to diffuse the inevitable ‘time bomb’!   However, as Maryon Stewart states, midlife women, themselves, need to be proactive and find ways to cope with this stage of live.

It wasn’t that long ago that girls felt embarrassed and ashamed to discuss their periods, or, being such a taboo subject, their parents didn’t prepare them for it, so it came as a complete and somewhat shocking surprise to them.  Now, of course, girls are extremely well educated about menstruation and, more importantly, are, for the most part, proactive in seeking support in relation to the physical and emotional symptoms. 

The same cannot be said for 96 per cent of the midlife women interviewed for the above-mentioned surveys.  This is confirmed by my own experience and the conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues experiencing menopause.  I wasn’t totally prepared for either peri-menopause or menopause – were you?  Yes, I had heard that some women have night sweats, occasional mood swings and irregular periods, but I wasn’t told about the anxiety; the sweats, night and day, where I could be in the middle of a supermarket, restaurant or business meeting and be fine one minute but literally 5 seconds later be drenched from head to toe in sweat; the lack of concentration with the descent of thick, thick mind fog; the inability to control emotions to the extent I could, without warning and over something trivial, burst into tears (not good when conducting business); the lack of resilience, confidence and libido; and the depression.  Although I found all of this very difficult, I had inner positive resources and tools, developed over the last 20+ years of coaching and mentoring women, which I used, and am still using, to navigate these challenges. 

Midlife can offer up women a perfect storm of life challenges.  It’s this stage in life that presents them with children leaving home for university or to start a career, which leads to Empty Nest Syndrome –  a type of grief for many parents; aging parents and the responsibility of looking after them, which in turn can raise awareness of one’s own mortality; the advent of peri-menopause and menopause and all the associated issues, being unfulfilled in your job or business, and marriages issues, which may lead to divorce and the huge amount of stress and change this can mean.

All these issues can affect women, not only in their personal lives, but very much so, in the workplace, or in their businesses.  Two of the most common challenges that women experience as a result of these midlife issues is lack of confidence and feeling low/depressed.

As employers, work colleagues, and in the case of those of us who are self-employed, we really do need to be aware of these potential issues in our employees, peers and ourselves!

One of the best starting points in helping people suffering with low confidence and mood is to encourage them to talk.  If you’re a business owner or boss, creating a working environment where people are encouraged to seek support and can feel they call talk about their issues is hugely important.  The pressures facing midlife employees are varied and can be significant. If you are the business owner or self-employed, confide in someone you trust, or seek help from a coach or therapist.  As the old BT advert said, ‘It’s Good to Talk’!!

It’s important that we don’t trivialise this stage of life; we often hear statements such as ‘she’s going through the change’ don’t we…

What is important is that whatever capacity we’re in, we offer support or seek it for ourselves.

If you’re a business owner, run a business or have any type of senior role, you might like to consider the following:

  • Challenge your midlife culture:  A culture that assumes midlife employees don’t need support and that careers stagnate from the age of 50 must be a thing of the past.
  • Are you/your organisation investing in your midlife workforce?

If you’re wondering how relevant and important it is to look after our midlife workforce, by 2020, on in three workers will be over 50, and in the next 10 years, there will be 13.5 million vacancies and only 7 million school and college leavers to fill them…. who do you think will fill the rest?  Midlifers, of course, but only if they haven’t been thrown on the slag heap!!

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