Key findings from this study and possible implications and recommendations are discussed below.
Employment and Age
Our results showed that the younger women in our sample (women aged between 40 to 49 years) were more likely to be working on a part-time or casual basis than their older colleagues aged between 50 to 59 years. Of additional interest, the younger administrative staff reported to have a greater intention to quit their jobs than their older colleagues aged 50+. Taken together, these findings indicate that contrary to a common belief among employers (Encel, 2000), there may be benefits in investing in older workers as they are less likely to leave the organisation.
The implications of this are significant in terms of workforce planning. Consistent with recommendations made in a recent report commissioned by the Diversity Council Australia (Tilly et al., 2013), it is recommended that organisations consider mature-age appropriate recruitment techniques that may further increase older women’s labour force participation. Moreover, career models and career metrics should be reviewed to ensure that mature age workers have equivalent access to opportunities (such as training and promotion) as all other workers.
It is important to note that the measure of intention to quit used in this study does not separate intention to retire from labour mobility so it is difficult to determine what is driving the age difference observed in this study. That said, national labour mobility figures indicate higher rates of labour mobility among women aged 45 – 54 than those aged 55+ (ABS, 2012). This suggests that the age difference in intention to quit observed in this study is most likely driven by intention to move jobs, rather than intention to retire. Irrespective of whether the measure taps labour mobility or intention to retire, the results show us that older women report being less likely to leave their jobs than their younger colleagues.
Physical and Mental Health
The health data collected by this survey indicated that on average, women reported good mental and physical health. Physical health worsened with age, while mental health improved with age. These age trends have been observed consistently among women in Australian population health data (Brown et al., 2006).
More than half of the sample (54.4%) had a BMI that indicated they were overweight or obese, and only 53.9% of the sample reported to be engaging in enough physical activity to meet current Australian guidelines (at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity: Commonwealth Department of Health, 1999). While these figures are consistent with national population health data reported by the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (Dobson et al., 2012), they are still of concern. It is known that lifestyle factors and work conditions can exacerbate declining health of the ageing population (Ilmarinen, 2005). Investment in age-appropriate workplace health promotion programs that encourage employees to eat healthily and engage in regular physical activity could be considered by organisations in order to improve the occupational health and well-being of their older workers.
Results from this survey indicate that menopause was experienced by women in a multitude of ways. A large proportion of peri-menopausal women were frequently experiencing menopause-related symptoms (e.g. 77% of peri-menopausal women reported having sleep disturbance occasionally or on a regular basis, 70% headaches and 64% weakness or fatigue). Similarly high percentages were reported among post-menopausal women, although different symptoms were reported more frequently – sleep disturbance (83%), pain in bone joints (63%), weakness or fatigue (59%), and loss of sexual desire (53%). For seven out of the ten most frequently reported symptoms, the highest percentages were reported for peri-menopausal women.
However, while all of these symptoms are typically associated with the bodily and hormonal changes that occur during and after the menopause transition, many of the symptoms are also generally age-related. For example, symptoms like pain in bone joints, weakness and fatigue are also typically associated with increasing age. This must be taken into consideration when examining the frequency of experience of symptoms commonly associated with menopause.
Menopause and Work
Results indicated that the experience of symptoms associated with menopause did impact on work. The more frequently women experienced menopause-related symptoms, the less engaged they felt at work, less satisfied with their job, less committed to the organisation they work for, and with a greater intention to quit their job. These findings suggest that the experience of menopause-related symptoms negatively impacts on women’s experience at work, independently of the age-related effects on work experiences. Our findings are consistent with results reported by other studies showing that the symptoms associated with menopause negatively influence women’s experience at work (e.g. Griffiths et al., 2013; Sarrel, 2012). These results underpin a call for the implementation of workplace procedures and policies that support working women as they transition through menopause.
Workplace Conditions and Health
Most women reported that they have a flexible work environment (i.e. flexibility in working hours, working arrangements and sickness absence procedures). Flexibility in working arrangements is known to have a positive impact on worker retention and occupational well-being of older workers (Ghosheh et al., 2006). The flexibility figures from the current study are encouraging to see, as an accommodating workplace is important for older women given the significant life changes they face (including bodily changes associated with the menopause transition and other life factors such as caring for ageing parents and partners retiring from the workforce). Flexibility in working conditions is not uncommon in the university sector, so further research is required to examine the health and well-being of older women in other types of workplace (e.g. corporate, retail), particularly around the menopause transition.
Only 30% of respondents reported that they had control over the temperature of their immediate working environment. Further analysis revealed that women who reported that they had control over the temperature reported fewer bothersome menopause-related symptoms and reported experiencing menopause-related symptoms less frequently. The qualitative text responses also revealed that temperature control was an issue. This finding supports the need for an accommodating infrastructure that allows employees to modify the temperature in their offices if required.
Very few participants indicated that their workplace provided support (formal or informal) or line management training on menopause (3% or less). It is clear that most workplaces underestimate the impact menopause and associated symptoms have on older working women’s enjoyment and engagement at work. Based on the preliminary findings from this study and others (e.g. Griffiths et al., 2013) the authors propose that some level of menopause-specific line management training and both formal and informal support networks be developed and implemented. This training should be integrated into the broader organisational framework around occupational health and well-being (in later life).
Within the open-ended text responses, a common theme around the health problems associated with a sedentary work environment appeared. Shoulder pain, back pain and swollen feet were commonly reported. The link between increasingly sedentary work environments and high rates of overweight/obesity must also be considered. Acknowledgement of the widespread problems associated with obesogenic environments, including obesogenic workplaces and some movement towards change, has begun in Australia (Garrard, 2009). However more work at the organisational level must be done.
 An environment that causes obesity.