Friday 18th October 2019 marked World Menopause Day and raises awareness of the effect of menopause on the lives of women around the globe. This year, Acas published new guidelines on how employers can support female employees going through the menopause.
According to the ONS (2015) older women are one of the fastest growing demographics in the workforce. There are around 4.3million women aged 50 or over in the UK workforce a trend that is reflected across Europe. The British government surmises that around 47% of the UK workforce will experience menopause during their working lifetime.
The average age for menopause is 51, with pre-menopause starting for many at around 47. Like it or not, menopause is something that businesses small and large are having to take more seriously. While not all women experience a work-impacting menopause, some can experience severe and debilitating symptoms. The CIPD found that three out of five women aged between 45 and 55 years old, believe that their menopause has had a negative impact on their work life experience.
Menopause and its symptoms
The menopause process usually takes around four years but can be shorter or longer (in some cases women have experienced symptoms for 12 years). Symptoms can include:
- Mood swings
- Hot flushes
- Difficulty sleeping
- Tiredness/ Lack of energy
- Irregular and/or painful periods
- Urinary problems
- Dry eyes
- Skin issues
- Weight gain
- Migraines and headaches
- Joint pain
- Inability to concentrate/focus
- Reduced ability to recover from illness
It is clear that many of these symptoms will have a negative impact on day to day work and productivity. One study found that 40% of those surveyed said that their menopause symptoms were causing them to make mistakes at work and another 40% said that they had lost interest in their jobs as a result of the process. It is difficult to get accurate figures, but menopause symptoms tend to be the main cause of work absence for women over the age of 45. Could this explain why a quarter of women have considered quitting their jobs because of their menopause – although only 1 in 10 have actually done so?
Despite the fact that almost 50% of the workforce is, has or will experience the menopause whilst working, many women feel unable to discuss their symptoms with their line managers. A recent YouGov survey supported by the CiPD found that 65% of respondents were struggling with concentration, 58% were experiencing increased stress levels and over half felt they were less patient with clients and colleagues. Unfortunately, only a quarter of women who took time off work due to their menopause symptoms felt able to be upfront about their reasons. They cited privacy, embarrassment and unsupportive management.
This all highlights the need to break the stigma that surrounds menopause so that it is no longer a taboo subject.
Breaking the taboo
In October 2019, Channel 4 became the first known UK media company to launch a workplace menopause policy. They are endeavouring to normalise this ‘taboo’ subject in business and intend to improve understanding throughout the business. The aim is to create a more supportive environment for employees before, during and after menopause. Their dedicated ‘menopause champion’ will carry out awareness briefings and factor menopause into their mental health employee network, 4Mind.
Smaller businesses and organisations can follow Channel 4’s lead. A large aspect of managing menopause in the workplace is raising awareness and creating organisational cultures that support women, ensuring they feel able to discuss health concerns openly. Too often managers feel unable to support their teams due to lack of understanding of the condition and symptoms. As with most areas of workplace health and wellbeing, confidence is key.
Management training on the subject is a great place to start. Menopause transition, along with age-related issues men may experience, such as prostate problems, can be incorporated into a wider education on equality and diversity. A recent government report particularly recommends a focus on improving managers sensitivity and listening skills.
Workplace-wide campaigns can then be implemented to raise staff awareness of the symptoms and issues faced during menopause and ways female employees can manage and minimise the symptoms themselves along with guidelines on how to access organisational support.
How to help in the workplace
There are a number of ways businesses can support employees experiencing menopause, and the vast majority of them are practical for even the smallest business.
- Providing desk fans and/or ventilation to counter hot flushes
- Considering desk location to manage temperature
- Providing a spare uniform
- Offering a space to change clothes
- Flexible working options
- Opportunity to work from home
- A calm and quiet rest area
- Natural light where possible
These policies and workplace changes will not only benefit women transitioning through menopause but also many other employees for a wide variety of reasons. So, it is little wonder that progressive organisations are already offering their staff some or all of them. In most cases, consideration, awareness and an open approach to managing the menopause is all employers need to support women through this transition and so ensuring that they retain these valuable team members.