Today there are over 4.4 million women aged 45–64 are in full or part-time employment¹. In fact, women over the age of 50 are the fastest-growing group in the workforce. So, it is vital that employers are supporting these women to feel comfortable and confident at work, for their own sake and for the sake of our economy.
The average age for the menopause transition is 51. As more women go through the menopause during their working lives, it’s vital that employers encourage open discussions to ensure they get the right support.According to research conducted in 2019¹, from the CIPD, 59% of working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms said it had a negative impact on them at work.
Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused further regressive impacts on women in work, including the following:
- The burden of unpaid care, which is disproportionately carried by women has increased significantly.
- Female jobs are disproportionately represented in sectors that have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis
- Mothers typically experience more interruptions during paid work than fathers, which can lead to measurable impacts such as drops in performance.
- The impact on mental health due to working from home, which has led to increased anxiety, feelings of isolation and a lack of opportunity for informal discussions
Peppy, analysed Google search terms to find more than 5 million searches for menopause-related terms in total during 2021. This also tied in with research from the wellness platform, Gympass, which found 80 percent of menopausal women say they find little empathy or support from their employers³
Common symptoms experienced are loss of ability to concentrate, increased stress, a loss of confidence and less patience with clients and colleagues. Many women take time off work due to symptoms.
Despite this, there is still a considerable stigma about talking about menopause at work. Most women do not tell anyone at work or seek adjustments, out of concerns for privacy, worrying about the reaction of others or simply not knowing who to tell. Women are more likely to speak to line managers or colleagues rather than to HR or occupational health. Many workplaces do not have any policies relating to menopause and therefore, they do not always know how to seek support.
Women want more support from their employers, which includes practical measures such as making reasonable adjustments and providing for greater flexibility, as well as cultural changes like removing stigma, encouraging openness, education and awareness-raising.
The most important things that employers can do to support employees experiencing menopause are the following²:
1. Provide Adjustments
Employers need to listen to what the individuals need and make adjustments accordingly. Making even small changes can make a big difference to how women manage their symptoms and thrive in their jobs. Adjustments such as including fans at desks, better ventilation, uniforms appropriate for menopause, e.g. made of breathable material, access to drinking water and easier access to toilets/washing facilities.
Risk assessments should be made to consider the specific needs of menopausal women, to ensure that their work environment does not worsen symptoms. A significant benefit of the Covid-19 pandemic and hybrid working practices has been the opportunity for women to work more flexibly, often from home, which has been of benefit to many women in managing the symptoms of menopause, including hot flushes and fatigue due to poor sleep.
2. Introduce Menopause Policies
Employers should have specific policies in place that recognise the impact of menopause. These policies should be distinctive and not just part of general sickness and absence policies. In particular, these policies should not penalise those needing time off to deal with symptoms, or for menopause-related appointments, and should outline what the employer will do to support women who are struggling at work, and where they can seek advice both internally and externally.
Guidance about Menopause should be freely available and part of a wider occupational health awareness campaign. Additional options for help should include HR and Occupational Health/Welfare support.
3. Provide Education
Employers need to have a greater understanding of the menopause, and its impact, in the workplace. They must educate and train line managers so they are knowledgeable and confident to have sensitive conversations with staff about their symptoms and any adjustments that might be needed. In addition, education needs to be provided to a wider audience and should be inclusive to all staff so that there is a greater acknowledgement and understanding of the issues that these staff are facing.
4. Support Cultural Changes
Employers need to encourage open discussions and to provide support without stigma. Line managers should be ready to treat the menopause like any other health condition and have open, supportive conversations with women in their teams, but the introduction of further workplace support must not have the unintended consequence of further stigmatising women.
The removal of the taboo relating to menopause needs to be prioritised, and there also needs to be a move away from menopause being an acceptable topic for jokes or workplace ‘banter’. There needs to be an ‘open space’ for women to talk about what they are going through and a willingness of others in the workplace to listen to the lived experience of women experiencing menopause. Women also need to feel that they can be trusted to manage their work alongside menopause, without the fear of being disciplined or facing other negative consequences for being open about menopause or having to take time off.
If employers create a culture where everyone can talk openly about health issues, such as the menopause, women are much more likely to feel confident about asking for the support they need to be effective in their role. Managers also need to work closely with their HR teams to understand what simple, practical adjustments can be made to help women feel more comfortable and able to manage their work
5. Develop Support Networks
Feeling supported in the workplace and knowing how to access that support is of huge importance. Employers need to offer women a safe place to discuss or seek support or advice for, what they are going through, either with female colleagues or directly with their line managers. In some cases, employers may need to offer the support of external professionals who understand menopause.
Some employers are now seeking or have already achieved Menopause Friendly Accreditation, creating workplaces where it’s easy to talk about menopause, offer more awareness and support, as well as training for colleagues and managers. Consequently, these employers will be less likely to see absences or a productivity drop.
However, there is still a need for significant change. The Impact of ignorance leads to decreased productivity, increased staff turnover, performance issues and poor staff morale. All of these factors will have associated with increased costs that the employer could easily avoid. If they want to retain the experience and talent of mid-life women, they must start by recognising that they must step up and provide access to expert, human clinical support for their employees who are affected by menopause or those who want to know more in advance. Research shows that 90% of women would be ‘more likely’ or ‘a lot more likely to join or stay at a company that has a menopause support plan.³
1 . https://www.cipd.co.uk/about/media/press/menopause-at-work
2 - https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5802/cmselect/cmwomeq/1157/report.html
3 - https://www.hrreview.co.uk/hr-news/call-for-employers-to-offer-more-menopause-support/140517