As the subject of menopause becomes, thankfully, less taboo, forward-thinking employers are now putting the right support in the workplace. This is a win–win situation, leading to increased retention rates, reduced absence and sickness, improved morale and less likelihood of employers being taken to an employment tribunal. And colleagues are very grateful to their employers for taking menopause seriously.
Until recently, menopause has often been treated as off-limits as a topic of conversation, much less something talked about at work. There has been a significant lack of awareness and understanding generally around this natural phase in a woman’s life. But fortunately, this is starting to change. More celebrities and women have come forward to share their experiences and there has been an increase in coverage in the media.
WHAT IS MENOPAUSE?
The definition of menopause is when a woman has had no periods for 12 months. The time leading up to menopause is known as perimenopause, and afterwards is postmenopause. During the menopause transition, the balance of hormones in a woman’s body changes, and this can result in a wide range of symptoms, both physical and psychological. These affect all women differently: some sail through menopause, while others can really struggle.
- The average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51. However, it can be earlier than this due to surgery, illness or a natural early menopause.
- Of these, three out of four experience symptoms; one in four has serious symptoms.
- One in three of the UK workforce is over 50.
- Around eight in ten menopausal women are in work.
- According to the Office of National Statistics, menopausal women are the fastest-growing workforce demographic.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR EMPLOYERS
These statistics demonstrate just why employers need to be taking menopause seriously. Three years ago, it was very rare to find an organisation with a menopause policy. However, the latest research (as yet unpublished) conducted by the Government Research Team,1 the organisation Henpicked2 and the TUC shows that over 10% of respondents say their organisation has one. This large-scale survey had over 5400 respondents, so it is a good indicator of the current situation. While this is clearly good progress, there is still much work to do.
EFFECTS OF MENOPAUSE ON WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE
Hot flushes are a stereotypical symptom. While they are experienced by many women, the top six symptoms that women find most ‘bothersome’ according to our survey respondents are:
- hot flushes
- difficulty focusing or concentrating
- anxiety and worry
- problems with memory recall.
Aspects of work which women cited as making menopause symptoms worse are high temperature, poor ventilation, humidity, no access to a quiet or restful space, and noise. Long hours, short and changing deadlines, high workloads and dealing with customers, patients and clients can also make symptoms worse.
WHAT CAN EMPLOYERS DO?
It makes sense for a responsible employer to be keen to support women. They’re working through the menopause transition, potentially through to their late 60s, and are likely to be working for many years postmenopause. This makes transition support and long term health a priority. In addition, most support will be temporary while symptoms last and is often easy for an employer to accommodate.
It’s worth noting that employee relations issues and tribunals over menopause discrimination are increasing. Menopause is covered under the Equality Act 2010, and employers can be taken to an employment tribunal over age, sex or even disability discrimination if they fail to effectively take into account the potential impact of menopausal symptoms.
Some examples of best practice for employers include:
Introducing a policy or guidance documents
These can clearly inform senior leaders, line managers and employees about how the company will support menopausal women. Without these policies, employees will still have recourse to existing policies, such as sickness or flexible working, but it’s a good idea for employers to address menopause separately.
It’s important to raise awareness and provide training to help line managers and colleagues understand how to support a menopausal woman and feel confident to talk about the subject. The Faculty of Occupation Medicine’s research says that the majority of women don’t feel comfortable talking to their line manager. The new research shows this is changing too.
Understanding that menopause is unique
No two women experience exactly the same level or combination of symptoms, so it’s important for employers to provide support on a case-by-case basis.
Considering reasonable workplace adjustments
These could be as simple as a desk fan or extra uniform, and access to water and toilet facilities, or could take in flexible working or temporary reallocation of duties.
Creating a transparent working environment
It can be hard for women to approach their line manager about menopause, so helping create an inclusive, supportive workforce and talking openly about the subject at work are big steps in the right direction.
We expect the focus on menopause in the workplace to accelerate this year. Our mission is to encourage all employers to support menopausal women in the workplace.
Deborah Garlick, Founder of henpicked.net, which ‘shares the wisdom of women’, Henpicked, Ruddington, Nottingham
- Brewis J et al. 2017 Menopause Transition: Effects on Women’s Economic Participation www.gov.uk/government/publications/menopause-transition-effects-on-womens-economic-participation.
- Henpicked 2019 Menopause in the Workplace https://menopauseintheworkplace.co.uk