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How will the workplace cater for older workers? Herpreet Kaur Grewal investigates.
Ageing workforce © Getty
Ageing workforce © Getty

03 June 2019 Herpreet Kaur Grewal

At IWFM’s recent conference in London, the Work Foundation economist Heather Carey remarked that today’s workforce is likely to have a higher proportion of older workers because of factors such as increased life expectancy. 

Added to this are the phasing out of UK’s default retirement age and the raising of the state pension age in coming years – meaning that many people will either need or want to keep working.

She also said there would soon be five different generations in the workplace with different needs, perspectives and values. 

This includes the traditionalists (born 1939 to 1947), baby boomers (born 1948 to 1963), Generation X (born 1964 to 1978), generation Y (born 1979 to 1999) and generation Z (born 2000 onwards).

The age factor is expected to affect long-term conditions among the workforce too, with work intensity and stress on the rise, growing concerns about physical and mental ill health and sickness absence set to cost businesses and UK plc dear.

Promoting workplace health is high up the agenda for ever more businesses as a result. 

Mental health

Older workers are likely to have grown up in a time in which mental health was even less prioritised than it is now. As a result, many will neglect their own mental health. Research from the healthcare group Bupa UK, shows there is a lack of awareness of mental health conditions among older people, which is leading “a significant proportion” of baby boomers to neglect their well-being.

In the intergenerational study baby boomers (55-plus) were shown to be the most likely age group to delay seeking medical help for symptoms of mental ill health. This is despite the fact that two-thirds of this age group suffer from symptoms associated with mental ill health, including anxiousness and insomnia.

Many keep problems bottled up: one in four (27 per cent) tells no one about these symptoms, and fewer baby boomers confide in a partner or friend than younger people – and fewer than half consult a doctor. 

Although mental health awareness is improving in general, only one in three baby boomers feels that their knowledge has increased in the past year. This is because of a lack of targeted materials: three in 10 agree that mental health information is more aimed at younger people. 

Fewer than one in three over-55s feel confident about recognising the symptoms of conditions like depression and anxiety, compared with nearly half of those aged 18 to 34. 

But as early diagnosis is proved to significantly ameliorate outcomes by aiding recovery or just improving how a condition is managed, Bupa mental health experts urge people to come forward earlier to seek help.

Pablo Vandenabeele, clinical director for Mental Health at Bupa UK, said: “It’s clear to see that awareness of mental health issues is improving, but more needs to be done to address information gaps to ensure that everyone feels confident in recognising and seeking help for a mental health concern.” 

Menopause and women

Another area that employers need to consider is menopause. Research commissioned by Health & Her, an online platform specialising in helping women to manage the symptoms of menopause, said it was costing the UK economy 14 million working days every year.

Supplementing this research are government figures from the Office of National Statistics which show that there are 4,357,000 working women aged 50 to 64 in the UK. Almost a third of women in the core ‘menopause age’ – between 50 and 64 – need to take time out of the working week to alleviate menopausal symptoms. 

Across the year this mounts up to over 24 hours, creating a potential productivity loss across the UK female workforce of 14 million working days.

Another company, Forth With Life, a biomarker tracking service, spoke to 1,000 women, all over 45 and all in either full-time or part-time work.

The survey respondents experienced typical menopause symptoms to varying degrees. The most common issue was hot flushes, which affected 73 per cent of the sample group. The next was drowsiness or exhaustion, with which 63 per cent struggle. A further 48 per cent report low moods, 47 per cent find it difficult to concentrate, and 43 per cent report they had suffered from memory problems. 

As a result of the symptoms they experienced, just over a third struggle with depression and anxiety, and 29 per cent have low self-confidence.

More than half (58 per cent) of respondents say they are experiencing symptoms of the menopause, and that this continues to affect their work; 41 per cent admit that those symptoms cause them to make mistakes at work. 

About 40 per cent mention that the menopause has caused them to lose interest in their work – and 8 per cent believe that menopause led to the decision to quit their jobs.

Of those surveyed, 24 per cent report that they had taken a sick day because they were suffering from symptoms. Almost half of those who did so admit they have called in sick multiple times.

The national average of menopausal women who have called in sick to work more than once stands at 11 per cent. 

Women in Yorkshire aged 45 and over took the highest number of days off work due to problems – 20 per cent doing so more than once. Northern Ireland saw the largest proportion of women calling in sick just once – 37 per cent claim to have done so, while the national average stands at 13 per cent.

Three-quarters of the women in the sample group believe that employers should do more to support women suffering symptoms of the menopause.

Sarah Bolt, Forth With Life founder, said: “It’s quite shocking to see the lack of support women get at work and our study highlights how urgent it is for UK employers to improve their policies and offer help that is much needed.”  


Emma Potter