Menopause in the workplace: the real cost of poor support
Mention the word ‘menopause’ in the workplace and what reaction would you get? Embarrassed silence? A joke about hot flushes? Euphemisms about ‘the change’? Hopefully you work for a progressive business but there’s no disputing that it’s still one of the last taboos, and as a result, there’s a lack of understanding around it. Just last week 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. There’s a lot of negative rhetoric for working women to contend with. And there are a lot of working women contending with it.
In the UK 4.4 million women aged 50–64 are currently in work. However recent research commissioned by the CIPD (led by YouGov) reports that 1 in 4 menopausal working women is considering quitting their job and many more are reducing hours to go part-time as a direct result of their symptoms. The impact of this ‘standing down’ from work by so many in what is the fastest-growing economically active group (according to the Office of National Statistics) is bad news for business and the wider economy (not to mention the self-worth and personal finances of working women and their families).
Menopause in the workplace – what are the issues?
When companies consider policies and allocations for their female employees they naturally think about maternity and pregnancy. Menopause is just another natural stage in a woman’s reproductive life yet recent research of over 1400 women by the CIPD (led by YouGov) found that because it is often unaccounted for. Women going through the menopause at work felt unsupported, embarrassed to admit the real issues and reasons for absence to their managers and struggled in some cases, to come to terms with having to give up their careers. The one in 10 who have taken the decision to leave the workplace due to their physical or emotional symptoms, and in some cases both, felt unsupported and unable to discuss their situation with management.
With more than 30 symptoms associated with the menopause, women contend with their own personal mix of psychological and physical challenges affecting sleep, concentration, mood 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, recent suicide figures produced by The Samaritans (the only recording body in the UK) show that the age group for women with the highest suicide rate per 100,000 in the U.K is 50-54, the average age of menopause is 51. Coincidence or consequence? It’s tough going through the menopause in silence, and even tougher to be working in an environment with little to no support.
The problem is that organisations have been too slow to put in place the policies to support the specific needs of women experiencing menopause in the workplace. As a result, women leave with considerable talent, knowledge and experience that is costly to replace. Consider that in 2019 the real cost of replacing an employee is estimated to be between six and nine months of an employee’s full time salary and the problem starts to look like a national crisis.
Recent research commissioned by the CIPD (led by YouGov) found that 77% of women between the ages of 45-55 were either currently going through the menopause or had already experienced it and of those, 63% said that their working life had been negatively affected in some way by their symptoms.
Almost a third of working women in the core ‘menopause age’ – aged between 50 and 64 – 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.
What can be done to help?
Menopause in the workplace: good practice
September is Menopause Awareness Month. Just talking about the Menopause at work can help start the conversation and take the first step towards breaking the taboo.
As more women go through the menopause during their working lives, it’s vital that employers encourage open discussions to ensure they get the right support.
Key things to put in place:
Educate your managers and your workforce and by doing this encourages a culture in which health and well-being issues are discussed openly between employee and managers.
With education comes understanding. By creating an environment where menopause in the workplace is discussed as naturally and as inclusively as other wellbeing topics (such as our other EW Wellbeing Practices courses) you provide a pressure value. Women feel they can have an honest conversation about what they need to help manage their symptoms, and managers are able to help them stay in their jobs and reduce the potential impact on the business.
Create specific policies that offer the flexibility needed to manage symptoms without fear of reprisal. Menopause has a place amongst the raft of wellbeing policies and procedures that many businesses have in place already, such as mental health awareness and support, stress management and building resilience. To reduce the stigma and break the taboo managers need to be educated about the symptoms and possible effects that the menopause can have on a woman and her work, then find ways to support during this time. This may be as simple as policies for introducing flexibility of start and finish times, fans available on desks.
It may be inevitable for all women, but the menopause is generally seen as a personal matter rather than an issue for HR. But positive steps by businesses to support women at this time in their life can impact engagement, productivity and wellbeing. Find out more about our Menopause Matters Awareness Training.Read More