Menopause has always been around. So why is it only in recent years that we’ve begun to speak more about it? Part of the reason is that we are all living and working for longer.
On average, women in the UK live well into their 80s and reach menopause at age 51. This means that the average woman lives three decades post menopause, and many of those years could be spent at work. In fact, menopausal women are the fastest-growing workplace demographic.
Menopause is defined as when a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 months. However, symptoms can begin to show years prior to this in the lead up to menopause, known as perimenopause.
It’s a highly unique experience — for some, it’s no problem and they can sail through it — but three in four women report symptoms, and one in four say they are severe. Symptoms can be psychological or physical, and they can change over time.
One in four women have considered leaving their jobs due to menopause symptoms.
Therefore, it stands to reason that symptoms which are problematic don’t switch off when you get to work. According to a survey conducted by the TUC, the five most problematic symptoms in the workplace are insomnia, anxiety and worry, focus and concentration, hot flushes, and fatigue (cited by over 40% of respondents).
In some cases, symptoms can impact on us being at our best at work. In others, the working environment can make symptoms worse. It’s important for organisations to raise awareness and create an environment where menopause can be discussed openly.
Supporting menopause at work: why it’s so important
One in four women have considered leaving their jobs due to menopause symptoms, and alarmingly, BUPA’s research says 900,000 actually did. A report published by Oxford Economics, also stated that to replace someone earning £25,000 a year carries a cost of over £30,000 to the organisation.
Menopause is covered by the Equality Act 2010 under the protected characteristics of sex, disability, and age. It is also covered under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 2974. We have also already seen successful tribunals brought forward in menopause-related cases.
This is categorically not a subject just for women.
Outside of the legal responsibilities, it is also the right thing to do for any responsible employer who wishes to support the wellbeing of their people and help them to be the best that they can be at work.
What can HR and L&D professionals do?
The first thing is to get the conversations started, and help turn menopause into a topic that no one is afraid to discuss. Training across the whole organisation is also a vital component: running workshops and awareness sessions for managers and their teams can help introduce the topic and increase understanding.
I always say that menopause will affect everyone — either directly by going through it themselves, or indirectly by supporting someone that is. This is categorically not a subject just for women.
The more we normalise menopause the better. It should simply be part of an organisation’s portfolio of wellbeing support.
You don’t by law have to have a menopause policy, but it’s a good idea to. Another option is to introduce a guidance document, which clearly sets out the support your organisation offers, and signposts how to access it.
One of the ways in which line managers could offer support is by allowing for reasonable adjustments to working practices, such as flexible working, a desk or hand-held fan, and/or an extra uniform. These adjustments are often inexpensive and easy to implement, but can make a world of difference to women going through perimenopause and menopause.
Organisations could also offer support programmes for employees, with many already employing employee assistance programmes, specific intranet groups, menopause champions/ambassadors, HR referrals, or occupational health where appropriate.
What can employees do?
If you need support at work, don’t suffer in silence. Look at what your organisation offers, ask for a meeting with your line manager, and do plenty of preparation.
Keep notes of your symptoms, how they are affecting you at work (or if work is impacting on them), and consider what adjustments might help. Then ask for a follow-up review, as your line manager may need to think about the best way to help or talk to HR. Always remember that symptoms can change over time, so you might need to make some alterations.
Although your employer isn’t there to offer medical advice — your first port of call for this is your GP — they are there to support you in the workplace. Thankfully, we’ve seen some real advances over recent years, as organisations have begun to realise the benefits of supporting menopause at work.
This has led to some employers demonstrating what they’ve done to support their colleagues by achieving Menopause Friendly Employer Accreditation.
Ultimately, the more we normalise menopause the better. It should simply be part of an organisation’s portfolio of wellbeing support, and something that all employers should provide as standard.
If you enjoyed this article, read: Know who you are: Women's career blindspots.