How can you manage midlife challenges and a career?

By guest blogger, Sarah Haselwood, a freelance writer and author of the blog, Corporate to Kids, about her transition from corporate HR to mum and writer. She loves writing about women in the workplace and women's health.

It’s a common misconception that it’s easier to return to work once the children are older and life gives you some time back. Sadly, it’s not that straightforward. While older children may be less dependent on their parents, effective midlife work requires more than a child who no longer needs to be collected from the school gates.

For midlife women may face additional complexities such as caring for ageing parents and children, pay gap and lack of career progression, the potential financial dependency of children at university and the menopause. It sounds like a constant juggle, but there are some ways to ease the transition and avoid the stigma of a (midlife) crisis.

The Sandwich Generation

We live in an ageing population and research suggests that by 2042 over 24% of the UK population will be aged 65 or older. With this demographic shift, there will undoubtedly be an increased pressure for us to care for our older relatives and our children. Charity Turn2us suggests that figures show that twice as many women than men in the UK currently receive Carer’s Allowance, highlighting the additional pressures on women. Also, there’s the challenge of financially supporting older children as they go through university and potentially after university if they return to live at home.

Be realistic

Midlife can be an opportunity to review and assess your career. You may have to work for financial reasons or purely because you want to. It’s a potential time to panic about where you are versus where you want to be. While this reflection can be positive if it motivates you to go back to work or look for change, it can cause stress if you feel like an underachiever. It’s important to set new and realistic goals and ensure you’re not still focusing on the ones you set decades ago. Focus on yourself and don’t compare yourself to others.

Find a fit

If you’re considering getting back into work, think about whether you go back to what you used to do or whether you start something new. It remains a challenge to find flexible working that fits around the children or caring obligations, but there are some specific websites which cater only for flexible jobs. Once again, it’s important to be realistic, as if you have been out of the job market for some time you may not be able to return into the same job level or salary as when you left. Alternatively, you may need to take a course to retrain, and it’s always important to network.

Remember to delegate

Not all parenting or care roles fit into neat little boxes. Not all men are breadwinners, and not all women are stay at home mothers, carers or part-time workers. While we live in a world that is tacitly edging towards gender equality, there are many ways in which women fail to jump aboard this vehicle for equality. Perhaps we are our own worst enemies, and we don’t delegate the various ‘home’ tasks we take on. It shouldn’t matter what the working dynamics in the family are; there are some tasks you can delegate to your partner or children.

Know your rights

If you are already in a job or are returning to an old job due to a leave of absence, then be aware of your rights:

  • The Equal Pay Act 2010 dictates that men and women performing the same job of equal value should receive equal pay and while the gender pay gap reporting is still a relatively new initiative, pay gaps are slowly narrowing.
  • For women returning from maternity or parental leave, the recent introduction of the extended redundancy protection period is an added support.
  • If you are a carer or parent and have been employed for twenty-six consecutive weeks, you can speak to your manager or HR about flexible working. Flexible work may be in the form of compressed hours, reduced days, working from home or a job share.
  • There is no guarantee that your flexible working proposal will be approved, but regardless it may be worth letting your manager know about your situation whether it’s a carer or parenting role.
  • Your statutory rights allow time off for emergency leave, but ensure you’re aware of your contractual rights outlined in your contract and the employer’s policy on time off for dependents and compassionate leave.

Menopause and work

The CIPD states that women over fifty are the fasting growing segment of the UK workforce, and over two million women will face problems at work due to the menopause. Thankfully, the subject is less taboo in the workplace than it once was, and guidance has been created by organisations such as the CIPD and Acas for managers, employees and HR teams. Speak to your company to understand if they have a Menopause Policy and if so, what it includes and how it may benefit you.

For all the changes and developments in UK employment law to increase flexibility for parents and carers, there are still pronounced differences between men and women’s roles. While there are many obstacles to midlife women excelling in a career they love, it’s by no means impossible. It’s about focusing on what you can feasibly do due to your responsibilities and how you can make changes to allow your career to shine. Midlife does not mean you can’t work; it may be about learning how to adapt to the other areas of life you manage.

If only midlife came without the need to juggle.


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