The repercussions of the pandemic on the workforce, particularly among those aged 50 and above, have sparked concerns among policymakers in Britain. The “exodus” of the over-50s has led to increased economic inactivity, prompting responses from figures such as Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. However, a closer examination of the data reveals a more nuanced picture, with a moderate increase in economic inactivity and a substantial proportion of older individuals leaving the workforce even before the pandemic.
One striking observation is the high baseline of economic inactivity among women aged 50-64, with almost 30% not working or actively seeking employment, and over 20% for men. These figures, despite being all-time lows, indicate a longstanding trend. The critical question arises: why are so many individuals, especially women, leaving the workforce many years before the state pension age?
Reasons for Leaving
Factors contributing to this phenomenon include long-term sickness, caregiving responsibilities and a sense of discouragement in finding work. The financial strain of early retirement becomes apparent as the cost of living rises, leading many to rejoin the workforce. However, the question remains: are these individuals finding fulfilment and satisfaction in their work, as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt hopes?
- Challenges of Later-Life Careers
Phoenix Group’s longevity think tank highlights that over a third of older workers find their jobs unfulfilling, and nearly 60% feel their age group is “left behind” by employers. Ageism remains a significant barrier, though new ways of working, such as part-time and self-employment, are becoming more prevalent. While these changes offer flexibility, starting a new career in later life can be challenging, with over a third of 50 to 64-year-olds looking for work experiencing prolonged unemployment compared to their younger counterparts.
- Personal Experience:
The challenges of later-life career transitions are exemplified in a personal account of attempting a major career switch at the age of 54, coinciding with the onset of the pandemic and menopause. The triple impact of these factors – economic uncertainty, hormonal changes and the challenges of remote interviews – underscores the complexity faced by older individuals seeking career changes.
- Menopause in the Workplace:
The menopause, often overlooked in discussions about career challenges, plays a significant role in the career trajectories of many women. AJ Bell Money Matters research reveals that almost one in 10 women either quit work or reduce their hours due to the menopause. Furthermore, menopause affects women’s confidence, performance and well-being at work. The lack of awareness and support in the workplace exacerbates these challenges.
The Need for Employer Support:
Employers must recognise and address the impact of the menopause on their workforce. Practical support, such as counselling and training for managers, can make a significant difference. The story of a colleague who faced a traumatic experience during menopause highlights the positive outcomes that supportive measures can yield. Offering menopause treatment as a standard part of private health insurance and promoting awareness around World Menopause Day can contribute to a more inclusive and understanding work environment.
Connecting the Dots
Employers often lament the absence of senior female employees, overlooking the valuable experience and connection they can bring, particularly with female customers who control household spending. The startling statistic that 30% of women aged 50-64 are economically inactive underscores the missed opportunity for businesses. Acknowledging the menopause as a normal and significant aspect of women’s lives can foster a more supportive work culture.
Addressing the challenges faced by menopausal individuals in the workforce requires a multifaceted approach. Employers must go beyond traditional measures and implement supportive policies and initiatives. Recognising the menopause as a normal part of women’s lives, providing practical support and fostering inclusive work environments can benefit not only women but also the organisations they work for and, by extension, the entire country. It’s time for employers to seize the opportunity to create workplaces where menopausal staff are valued, supported, and empowered to contribute meaningfully to the workforce.