Ageing women at work: many challenges and no silver bullet

logo-etui-largeThe European Trade Union Institute has organised a conference on women and health at work on 4-6 March 2015. Part of this event was a workshop on safer and healthier work at any age, looking at the specific problems of older women at the workplace.The panel pointed out many of the challenges women face as they age on the labour market: needs to reconcile work with family life and care duties, specific health challenges linked to the sectors in which mainly women are working, reintegration of the labour market after a care period, and problems linked to a lack of awareness for the effects of the menopause.

EU-OSHA research: many questions around typically female working environments

Elke Schneider, from the EU Agency for Health and Safety at Work, EU-OSHA, pointed out that across Europe, huge numbers of women leave work before reaching retirement age – earlier than men do. In surveys, women are more likely to think that they will not be able to carry out their work past the age of 60. She presented some first examples from a study on ageing and women at work. The study is part of a larger research agenda looking at OSH and ageing, which summarises the issues for an ageing workforce, analyses policy initiatives, workplace practices and practices on rehabilitation and return to work.

Many research results show that prevention efforts directed towards younger workers is a strong prerequisite for being able to work until old age, and this has to be more focussed on women. A problem is that many research efforts focus on the typical work environments of men, so more research is needed.

An example for successful intervention in younger age is starting prevention on back diseases at schools already – this has huge yields in terms of saved costs for society.

A specific issue which is often disregarded when designing workplaces: menopause, which symptoms can have a negative impact on women’s self-confidence and create difficulties in workplaces. Managers, colleagues and human resources professionals are often not aware of what menopause entails and how it affects women at work. More communication is needed around this issue.

Ms Agnes Parent-Thirion from Eurofound presented some interesting figures around active ageing and its effect on women. While in the whole of Europe; the duration of working life has been increasing, men still work longer than women. Women have however a higher healthy life expectancy.

NHS Employers: country-wide working group

The UK NHS employers presented a concrete example of how a big employer is dealing with a predominantly female and ageing workforce. A special group on working longer has been established to push for prevention and more flexibility in the choice of shifts.

Reconciliation of work and family life

Agnes Uhereczky from the European confederation of family organisations COFACE presented the Package on reconciling work and family life, a document to which AGE has also contributed. She stressed the importance of accessible, quality and affordable care services to allow parents to have time to work, which has to go alongside working time arrangements to accommodate care duties.

The agenda and the presentations of the 3-day conference on women at work can be downloaded on the website of the European Trade Union Institute:

For more information, please contact Philippe Seidel at the AGE Secretariat:

More information about AGE positions on the employment of older women:

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