The Taboo Workplace Topic that Threatens the Careers of Nearly Half of Mature Workers – Organization
As industries and governments across Australia and around the world grapple with how to best meet the needs of an ageing workforce, one factor is silently derailing the careers of millions of older workers. While accommodations and work redesigns could save these workers’ jobs, the topic has historically been too taboo to discuss in the workplace.
The quiet career killer is menopause, and according to a recent ABC News story from Ruth McPhail, its associated symptoms can make it difficult for mature women to perform their jobs.
Given the prohibition of the subject, a quick primer of menopause is warranted. Women officially enter menopause after going 12 months without menstruation, typically around age 51, although symptoms can begin prior to this during what is called peri-menopause. Work disturbing symptoms include fatigue, hot flushes, sleep disruption, irregular and unpredictable bleeding, urinary issues, and mood swings. On average, women experience these symptoms for four to eight years.
How do menopause symptoms interfere with job participation? Although research on this issue is somewhat limited, particular within Australia, the indication is that menopause does not necessarily directly affect job performance. However, there is a strong relationship between symptom severity and reduced work engagement and satisfaction, and with a higher intention to quit work. These responses can quash career ambitions.
Menopausal workers are often reluctant to talk to their supervisors or managers about their symptoms, feeling the topic is too personal or private. This is particularly true when the supervisor is a man. Furthermore, these workers may not recognize how their symptoms affect their work.
Considering workers age 50 or older make up nearly 30% of the Australian labour force, with over 45% of them women, menopause has the potential to wreak havoc on the functioning of an organisation. Moreover, the proportion of older adults, and older women in particular, in the labour force is projected to increase into the future, meaning the work disrupting effects of menopause should not ignored.
Organisations can be proactive in their approach to menopause. Health promotion programs, managerial training, and workplace policies can be enacted to help women feel more comfortable talking about their symptoms. Fans or other temperature controls can be made available to women experiencing hot flashes. Access to toilets and flexibility in scheduling breaks may provide a necessary retreat from temporary symptoms. Such actions send a clear message about the organisation’s commitment to its workers well-being, which in turn can bolster employee satisfaction and retention rates.