How to Support Menopause in the Workplace:
And implement a menopause policy and guidelines
Jane Ordaz, founder of the Global Menopause Community, examines how employers can best support menopause in the workplace and create a menopause-friendly organisation through awareness, training and a menopause policy. She believes the evidence shows that understanding the effects of health inequalities and cultural nuance is vital to developing a truly inclusive programme of support.
Last year heralded an all-time high for menopause awareness with both a much-discussed documentary series (Davina McCall’s The Menopause Brain Drain) and the Concluding Report from an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Menopause and the case for reform.
But despite high profile discussion of the issues, the New Year began with the Government rejecting the recommendations of the APPG to consult on making menopause a protected characteristic. This would have potentially given menopause the same protections as age, sex, race, and disability. The Government also rejected the committee’s recommendation to pilot a workplace menopause leave policy in England.
All Party Parliamentary Group on Menopause
Back in July 2022 when the APPG published its Concluding Report on the impact of menopause, expectations of progress were high. The report made a series of ground-breaking recommendations and recognised that those from minority backgrounds, such as ethnic groups and the LGBT+ community, faced specific barriers. Further, as part of any future menopause policy-making, it stated that the Government must ensure accurate representation of all minority groups.
Elsewhere in Government at the time, Labour MP Carolyn Harris and also Chair of the APPG, organised an awareness event to give male MPs heat vests to simulate hot flushes; “volcanic” and “very uncomfortable” were just two of the reactions. Harris’ aim was to help male colleagues empathise with the experience of menopause by breaking down barriers and stigmas and changing the workplace for the better.
Against this backdrop of increased awareness, the Government’s decision to reject the committee’s recommendations has disappointed many. But does this mean that all the work done to raise awareness of menopause in the workplace with employers and employees has come to nothing?
- Menopause at work – what the stats say
- What businesses are saying about menopause
- Understanding workplace menopause issues
- How menopause affects the bottom line
- Taking an intersectional approach
- Guide to creating a menopause-friendly workplace
Menopause at work – what the stats say
The menopause affects the majority of women and those who have a menstrual cycle, as well as their partners and families. The number of women of menopausal age (45-55+) currently at work in the UK is a considerable proportion of the workforce, estimated at 3.5 million by the TUC. And in the USA, research into the impact of menopause on women’s health, by the National Institute on Aging, estimates that more than 1 million women are experiencing menopause at work every year.
With three out of five women experiencing menopause saying it has a negative impact on them at work, employers will want to take note. They have a duty of care to all their employees but, as a survey has found, a staggering 90% of women said their workplace offered no menopause help at all. Recent research has reported that one in four working women have considered quitting their job as a direct result of their menopausal symptoms.
With such low awareness of how to support employees with menopausal symptoms, clearly many women will not get the adequate support they need.
What businesses are saying about menopause
The APPG report says that many businesses aspire to create a menopause-friendly workplace. But whilst they give examples of businesses that are leading the way in the UK, many say that they do not have the resource, understanding or access to guidance or training to provide the measures that are needed.
The APPG report also states that both Government and employers need to drive forward change. The committee acknowledges that menopause considerations must be woven into all health and workplace policymaking that pertains to women if a positive change in understanding and support is going to be successful.
So businesses will need to pick up the baton here even though Government has appeared to turn its back on the recommendations in the APPG Concluding Report.
Understanding menopause at work issues
So what are the most common issues that are facing employers and leading to a failure to adequately support employees who are experiencing the challenging symptoms of menopause at work?
1. No budget for a menopause policy
When companies plan their cost allocations for their female employees, many only consider policies for maternity. Menopause is another major life stage in a woman’s reproductive life, yet it is often overlooked. A study of over 1,400 women by the CIPD (led by YouGov) found that menopause workplace guidelines are regularly not accounted for within businesses.
2. Staff fear negative manager reaction
A recent survey of 4,000 women by the Fawcett Society on menopause, found that only 22% of women and trans men currently experiencing menopause disclosed this at work. Half of those responding said it made them less likely to go for a promotion. And eight out of ten women reported that their employer hadn’t shared information or created a supportive dialogue on menopause. It’s therefore unsurprising that women often feel embarrassed and ashamed to admit the real issues and reasons for absence to their managers.
The same survey reports that 23% of key worker women say that their uniforms have become uncomfortable when experiencing menopausal symptoms.
3. An environment of stigma
Menopause is often referred to within a negative rhetoric, which can only increase this environment of shame and stigma. For example, in 2018, the Deputy Head of the Bank of England reported that the UK economy was ‘entering a menopausal phase’, meaning it was past its best in terms of productivity. These negative attitudes towards menopause in general, increase the likelihood organisations will ignore the needs of women experiencing menopause in the workplace.
4. Lack of menopause awareness
With more than 62 symptoms associated with menopause, without awareness at all levels and a clear menopause policy, women are often left to contend with their own personal mix of psychological and physical challenges. These affect sleep, concentration, mood, loss of confidence and anxiety levels, along with the better-known hot flushes and night sweats:
- 65% said they were less able to concentrate
- 58% said they experience more stress
- 52% said they felt less patient with clients and colleagues
More shockingly, suicide figures from the Samaritans show that the age group for women with the highest suicide rate per 100,000 in the UK is 50-54 – the same as the average age of menopause (51). Whether this is a coincidence or a consequence, it is certainly tough to go through menopause in silence, and even tougher to be working in an environment with little or no support.
The Fawcett Society survey suggests that women are not only let down by their employers but also their healthcare providers. Almost half of the respondents with menopausal symptoms hadn’t spoken to their GPs. And of those who had, 31% said it had taken many appointments before they were offered treatments such as HRT.
How menopause affects the bottom line
By the time women reach menopause, many may be at the peak of their careers, and hold a wealth of knowledge and experience to share across an organisation or place of work. Once through the transition, many women report a renewed sense of energy and self-confidence.
However, due to lack of awareness and support at the time of menopause, women with considerable talent, knowledge and experience are leaving the workforce, and this is expensive. The financial cost of replacing an employee is estimated to be between six- and nine- months’ worth of an employee’s full-time salary.
In addition, if businesses are serious about addressing the gender pay gap, it’s impossible to ignore the impact that menopause can have on career progression and business talent pipelines. Not to mention the longer-term implications on a woman’s economic health, and in particular pension benefits.
The APPG on Menopause estimates there are currently around 4.5 million women aged 50–64 in employment (94). Additional research by The Forth Study found almost a third of working women in the core ‘menopause age’ – aged 50+ – are having to reluctantly take time out of the working week to alleviate menopausal symptoms. Across the year this mounts up to a loss of over 14 million working days, providing a clear imperative for organisations to provide support at this crucial time to prevent the loss of knowledge, talent and productivity.
Taking an intersectional approach
Since the first McCall documentary in 2022, the Guardian reports that 500,000 more women have received HRT prescriptions. But while prescription rates doubled in the richest areas of the UK, in the most deprived areas only half as many women have received HRT. Whilst HRT is not the only solution and not suitable for all, there is also a marked difference in the level of health care received:
“45% of Black and minoritised women say it took many appointments for their GP to realise they were experiencing the menopause, compared to 30% of white women.”
In the USA, a review of African American women’s experiences in menopause, undertaken by the Journal of the North American Menopause Society in November 2022, concludes that African American women experience distinct differences in physical, psychological and social effects. As a result, they conclude that it’s critical that this unique experience is understood in order to “improve the health of this underserved population”.
Inequalities are further demonstrated in the results of a Fawcett Society survey, which show 22% of disabled women in the UK who had been employed during their menopause said they had left a job due to their symptoms, compared to the lower rate of 9% for non-disabled women.
The importance of inclusivity at work is also relevant to the LGBTQ+ community which can feel alienated by the use of heteronormative language, which assumes everyone is heterosexual or in a couple. Good Housekeeping argues that symptoms affect all relationships making it important to ensure all groups at work feel welcome in discussions and receive the support they need.
Whilst menopause awareness training and policies can go a long way to making significant improvements in the workplace, a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be applied to a diverse group experiencing peri-menopause and menopause symptoms. Listen to the EW Group’s podcast for more on how leaders need to understand the health inequalities and cultural nuances that mean women from different groups (whether race, religion, disability, LGBT+, class or any other identity) will experience and receive support for menopause symptoms very differently.
Guide to creating a menopause-friendly workplace
It’s clear that as more employees go through menopause during their working lives, it is vital that employers and managers encourage conversations to ensure they get the right support. If you are at the beginning of this journey, you can begin by:
- Starting the conversation, for example running a ‘lunch and learn’ introduction session to menopause for all staff
- Asking employees with symptoms what additional discussion groups and safe spaces they would like based on their specific identities, whether this is race, sexuality, disability, class or any other grouping
- Organising a training programme to train managers at all levels to have those much-needed conversations
- Making sure you are supporting all employees – no matter their circumstance whether in the office, at home or on the road (such as care assistants, drivers etc.)
- Thinking creatively about your sector – is there anything specific that you can do to provide support?
- If you have menopause workplace guidelines or policies in place already, review and update them
- Join the Menopause Workplace Pledge
What to include in a Menopause Policy
Creating and implementing specific workplace menopause policies to provide the flexibility needed for employees to manage symptoms without fear of reprisal is crucial. Menopause has a place amongst the raft of well-being policies and procedures that many businesses have in place already, such as mental health awareness and support, stress management and building resilience.
It is also important that employers find ways to support their female, trans and non-binary employees during this time. Help to reduce the stigma by educating managers about the symptoms and possible effects that menopause can have, including the impact of additional inequalities.
Menopause policies in the workplace may be as simple as:
- Considering flexible working models, such as hybrid working and allowing time off for appointments
- Ensuring uniforms are comfortable and making reasonable adaptations
- Providing managers with specific training and development that takes account of health inequalities and cultural nuance
- Offering obligatory comfort breaks
- Reviewing workplace temperature and providing ventilation
- Supplying guidelines for where women can source specific healthcare information
- Continuously facilitating a supportive and open dialogue
- Reviewing current policies (performance and well-being policies for example) and asking for feedback
- Recording menopause days off separately from other absences (sick leave policy/procedure)
- Awareness-raising activities such as menopause well-being activities
- Ensure staff have access to information, resources and helpful providers
- Check that your workplace insurance includes menopause
- Appoint and train workplace ambassadors, and include them in performance discussions
Menopause at work: next steps
EW Group provides a 90-minute menopause training course that will define key terms and concepts and help attendees to understand the legal framework, setting out how we should work with colleagues. It will address how a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach cannot be applied to a diverse group of employees who are experiencing peri-menopause and menopause symptoms. And concludes with what constitutes appropriate and inclusive behaviours in the workplace, as well as recognising micro-messages and their impact.
We can also work with you to develop your own bespoke menopause training programme and menopause policy. For more information contact our experienced team.