- Menopause and the workplace

This month’s blog will focus on the menopause and its potential impact on the workplace, and what Employers can do to ensure their workforce is considered, supported and ultimately, retained.

The Office of National Statistics highlights the fact that menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the UK workforce.  With 1 in 3 of the workforce soon to be over 50, and as an ageing population the onus is on Employers to take care of their ‘older’ workers, in order to preserve the skills and talent needed to successfully run their businesses.

A recent study of female professionals has revealed that an incredible 90% of workplaces aren’t supporting employees with menopause-related issues.

The study, exploring issues surrounding the menopause support in the workplace, conducted by digital healthcare company, Forth with Life, surveyed 1000 female professionals over the age of 45, finding that of the 77% of respondents who had experienced or were currently experiencing symptoms of the menopause, almost none of them felt supported in the workplace.

There has in fact been successful Employment Tribunals against Employers in recent times over failures to provide appropriate and adequate support – another good reason to redress any imbalance in your workplace now.

What is the Menopause?

Without getting too technical, menopause is when a woman’s oestrogen levels decline, and she is no longer able to become pregnant naturally.  The average age for a woman, in the UK, to reach the menopause is 51, but it can be much earlier or even later than this, either naturally or through surgery, and it can even be triggered by illness. 

No two women will experience menopause the same; which makes offering support in the workplace particularly challenging.  Some may have very few symptoms, while others may find the transition difficult, even presenting with serious symptoms that impact on their day to day life considerably.  Symptoms range widely from physical, such as the universally-recognised hot flashes, headaches, poor sleep and erratic menstrual cycles, through to psychological, such as low moods, anxiety and poor focus.  Symptoms may also present themselves in the years leading up to the menopause, known as the perimenopause (which commonly occurs between 40 and 50 years of age), and for some beyond. 

The impact on the workplace

The symptoms described previously can have mild to significant implications with regards to a woman’s ability to perform at her best in the workplace.

In ‘The Government Report on Menopause’, co-author Dr Andrea Davies says; “Menopause and work – it’s a two-way street. Work is good for menopausal women. It contributes far more than just a salary, it can provide fulfilment, self-esteem, identity and social needs too. But working environments like those with lack of temperature control, cramped conditions, some uniforms and stress can also make menopause symptoms worse.”

With the menopause, as with many body changes, health situations or illnesses, knowledge and understanding of symptoms and ways of managing them can help those affected get back to life and ‘business as usual’ very quickly.  However, many women don’t seek medical advice, knowledge or support at the onset or during the menopause, either because they are unaware that their symptoms are menopause-related, or they feel embarrassed to discuss the symptoms with a healthcare professional. 

When it comes to the workplace, many women don’t feel comfortable discussing the menopause and their symptoms with their managers.  In fact, the 2016 Wellbeing of Women survey found that 1 in 4 women in the workforce considered leaving their jobs due to the difficulty of working while coping with menopausal symptoms, and the perceived inability to discuss it with their managers.

So, what can organisations do?

Many managers feel less than comfortable or confident talking about menopause – particularly as it affects each woman differently, unlike maternity which is a comparably straightforward process.  Indeed, some worry that they do not know enough about the menopause itself to feel able to discuss it with their Employees.

However, managers need not be medical experts – approaches for managing menopausal symptoms are largely between the woman and her GP or healthcare advisor.  Managers simply need to have a good knowledge and understanding of the possibilities relating to menopause, and how they can provide support as an employer.

One great place to start is with fostering an environment where women can feel comfortable talking about the menopause (and other natural life phases) with their managers (and colleagues), without embarrassment or judgement. Organisations can also benefit from putting specific training in place, and providing information and guidance on the menopause, with managers having clear guidelines as to how to manage such discussions, or when to refer women to occupational health (where they have this) for additional support.  This approach is supported by the Government Report on Menopause, which recommends creating a written and well-circulated policy or guidance document to this effect.

Additionally, some immediate and practical solutions for supporting menopausal Employees can range from providing a desk fan or personal cooling unit, time off for healthcare appointments, adjustable uniforms, or even flexible working opportunities. If you want to find out more there are many informative websites that can offer advise; this is just one of them: www.menopauseintheworkplace.co.uk

Conclusion

The menopause is a natural phase of a woman’s life, and with the increasing retirement ages, many women will work through their menopause and for many years beyond. Therefore, supporting women in the workplace appropriately through the menopause should be considered essential and best practice by all organisations.