The natural female ageing process can have a raft of physical, psychological and emotional symptoms, which in tandem with a post-pandemic work environment, can leave women feeling increasingly overwhelmed. We get it - so we’ve reviewed best practices and policies at progressive employers which support women with menopause.
For employees, you can quickly see where the best place to develop your career is. For employers, you can see what improvements you can make to get your recruitment and retention to best in class.
Challenges facing working women with menopause
In the UK, the ONS reports that there are 4.4 million working women between the ages of 45-55 - they’re the fastest growing demographic of workers, and almost every single one of them - some even younger - will experience menopause symptoms with varying severity.
It’s impossible for these symptoms not to have an impact on work - women simply don’t feel like themselves. With menopausal symptoms lasting from 4 to 12 years, and perimenopausal symptoms occurring up to 10 years prior to going through it, the menopause is a highly significant occupational health and HR issue.
The statistics back this up: while some women won’t notice menopause at all, 6 out of 10 women say it has had a negative impact on their work, and one in four have considered leaving their job due to symptoms.
When it comes to the menopause, physical and psychological symptoms can affect a woman’s performance at work, quality of working life and levels of absence.
Let’s delve into these challenges a little more:
Despite the commonality of menopause, it still remains a deeply personal subject and one that is viewed as shameful. Research shows that the stigma attached to the natural ageing process of female bodies continues to prevent women from accessing much needed support.
Not only are women embarrassed to discuss this natural part of ageing with managers or male colleagues, but they may not fully understand themselves what is happening to them. Or they may fear being ridiculed or dismissed as ‘past it’. Some women report feeling worried that their symptoms will be negatively linked to performance, while others believe they’ll be discriminated against at work because of their symptoms.
All of this negativity and misinformation creates a taboo around menopause which feeds the stigma cycle in many workplaces.
The physical symptoms of the menopause can be all consuming - tiredness, poor concentration, ‘brain fog’, insomnia, hot flushes, urinary incontinence, joint soreness, headaches, dizziness - there are a myriad of challenging physical symptoms that women regularly encounter.
The psychological symptoms of the menopause can directly impact someone’s performance at work - brain fog and mood swings, for example, can result in reduced memory capacity, an inability to learn, hard to concentrate, indecision, etc.
Not to mention the enormous emotional toll the menopause takes - the debilitating physical and psychological symptoms can leave a person having a crisis of identity. Resulting in low morale, feeling isolated, damaged self confidence, low mood, and increased anxiety.
In a press release to coincide with the first World Menopause and Work Day, the European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS) said:
“Worryingly, there is increasing evidence that women with severe menopause symptoms have a higher chance of becoming unemployed or reducing their working hours.”
Because of the menopause, the EMAS say, women are being penalised financially. Not only is the menopause having a detrimental effect on their immediate income, it’s also preventing them from reaching retirement with sufficient pension contributions, savings and security in later life.
The menopause is still a taboo topic
The menopause is a physiological change that every woman will experience, yet we don’t discuss it. Our needs are not addressed by society, let alone in the workplace. While menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life, it still remains a taboo subject.
Research shows just 22% of workers have openly spoken about menopause in the workplace. Research by digital health app Peppy revealed that people would rather discuss sex with colleagues than menopausal symptoms. But silence is the real enemy.
67% of women in a study carried out by Nuffield Health Group, said they had little to no help or support while they went through the menopause. This is despite 63% of women saying the menopause had negatively affected their working life, with research from a Wellbeing of Women campaign with BUPA and CIPD estimated 900,000 women in 2019 quit their jobs because of the menopause.
Loretta Dignam, founder of the Menopause Hub in Dublin, says: “We need to change the culture around [the menopause] so it’s not perceived as a joke.”
Breaking menopausal chains
For ¼ of the 4.4 million women aged between 45 and 55 in the UK workplace, the menopause is likely to be debilitating. However, menopause is not just a women’s issue.
It’s in the financial best interest of companies to support women as they go through the menopause for the simple fact that women often hit their career peak just as they enter the menopause.
The cost of getting workers of the same calibre as menopausal women far outstrips the cost of supporting them through this time in their life. Menopause related productivity losses alone can cost upwards of $150 billion.
But despite this, only 19% of businesses currently say they have a menopause policy in place. And a lack of visible, practical support from management only serves to perpetuate a culture of silence around menopause. This results in unfulfilled employee potential, stunted careers, reduced team wellbeing and talent loss.
The lack of menopausal support is leaving gaps in our talent pipelines. It’s holding back businesses.
In order to change workplace culture and provide support to menopausal employees, leadership teams need to be equipped with the right tools to help their team. And the great news is that leaders are beginning to recognise that there’s a problem and things need to change.
As a society we are getting much better at understanding how our physical and mental health affects our work, and there's a growing realisation that in order to get the best from people, businesses need to support individuals.
Menopause and perimenopause support
The first step organisations need to take is to write menopause and perimenopause support into their business plan. The next step is to dedicate time, money and resources to deliver it.
While this is an ethical decision, rather than a legal requirement, the return on investment is enormous: FT advisor found that 61% of people would be more likely to change jobs for one that offers support around menopause.
The third step is then to work out what that support actually looks like. While many leaders are keen to connect directly with their teams on any health issues that might impact them, the reality is that most employees simply don’t feel comfortable openly discussing their personal health.
Managers therefore need to not only have awareness and empathy for what female colleagues are going through, but to understand the symptoms in order to acquiesce to reasonable requests such as having a fan on their desk, sitting near a window, being able to work flexible hours, or having a uniform made from loose, breathable material.
What are progressive employers doing to help?
Channel 4 made headlines in 2019 when they launched a menopause policy for employees to address the menopause taboo and normalise the subject of menopause at work. At the time, the policy was believed to be the first among UK media companies.
Vodafone announced on International Women’s Day, 2021, its commitment to support employees through the menopause:
Vodafone chief human resources officer Leanne Wood noted:
“Vodafone’s global commitment to menopause underscores our drive for a more inclusive culture and our desire for women to see Vodafone as the place to be for their career through all stages of their life.”
Diageo (which owns brands such as Johnny Walker, Baileys, Smirnoff and Guinness), also announced their new menopause guidelines in March 2021, with the aim of raising awareness around menopause and breaking taboos around the subject.
Diageo now offers employees experiencing the menopause access to a range of counselling and mindfulness sessions, as well as increased workplace flexibility around working hours and sick leave.
Aviva, in 2020 on World Menopause Day, introduced their menopause awareness campaign, aiming to raise awareness and support employees experiencing the menopause in association with Peppy.
Santander also partnered with Peppy in 2020. Culture and employee value proposition lead for Santander UK Theresa Winters told Employee Benefits:
“We also held menopause awareness sessions for colleagues and managers, with a clear message that menopause is a topic that impacts any person of any gender or age. This awareness phase was crucial so that we created the right environment, in which people could talk openly about their experiences of menopause and seek help if they needed to.”
Levels of support provided by progressive employers - industry standards and recent trends around menopause
Level 1: establish an internal policy and talk about it.
Break the silence around menopause and provide relevant content to support employees experiencing the menopause as well as build a bank of high quality resources for employees to use to support one another.
Education of others is also critical. Businesses that impart knowledge to all their employees and their leaders will be creating open cultures. Ones which ensure that all women have the support they need.
Help managers deliver essential menopausal support by providing infographics that explain the symptoms and the severity of menopause, with a guide on supporting measures.
Symptoms of menopause are personal and can be embarrassing, but this is not an excuse to avoid the conversation.
Level 2: one-on-one chats and video appointments with practitioners.
Companies such as Wickes, Channel 4, University of Sheffield, Hogarth, Amey, Mace, Aviva (and quite a few more) are using third party providers to support women via a series of menopause programmes, mental wellbeing support and live broadcast events, as they navigate this natural stage of life.
The challenges of menopause and work go beyond the psychological and physical symptoms a woman suffers - these are just the tip of the iceberg. Additional complications driven by negative attitudes, culture, and a lack of awareness around the menopause can all contribute to a menopause unfriendly workplace.
But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.
While it might seem like there’s a mountain to climb when it comes to changing attitudes around menopause in the workplace, there are simple practical changes that employers can make and policy amendments that can be implemented to make those subtle, much needed, cultural shifts that will turn an organisation into a menopause-friendly one.
To find out more about how myTamarin can support your organisation balance work and family, get in touch with our team today.
Further reading on Menopause
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