Menopause in the workplace: how to support it and how to implement menopause workplace guidelines

Diverse women

Caroline Arnold, a consultant at EW Group, examines how employers can best support menopause in the workplace and how they can create a menopause friendly organisation.

If you mention the word ‘menopause’ in the workplace, what reaction do you get? Embarrassed silence? A joke about hot flushes? Euphemisms about ‘the change’?

We hope that your employer is a progressive business, with a menopause friendly workplace, but we understand that this is often not the case.

There is no disputing that menopause is one of the last taboos in the workplace, despite the large number of women (4.4 million) aged 50-64 currently in work across the UK.

Most of these women will go through menopause in the workplace, but many will not get the adequate support they need due to a lack of policies and frameworks. Employers have a duty of care to 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. This is because menopause is not commonly treated with the same understanding and attentiveness as other health issues.

As one of the fastest growing economically active groups, the impact of women ‘standing down’ from work is ruinous for businesses, the wider economy and female career progression. With this in mind, employers must act now to tackle the stigma surrounding menopause in the workplace, implement menopause policy in the workplace, and champion their female employees.

Menopause in the workplace: what are the issues?

When companies implement allocations for their female employees, many only consider policies for maternity and pregnancy. Menopause is another major natural 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 often unaccounted for within businesses.

Unfortunately, it is common that women who go through menopause in the workplace feel unsupported as a consequence. Often women are embarrassed and ashamed to admit the real issues and reasons for absence to their managers due to the lack of discussion around the topic.

With more than 30 symptoms associated with 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:

More shockingly, suicide figures show that the age group for women with the highest suicide rate per 100,000 in the UK is 50-54 – the same 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 to no support.

Menopause is often discussed within a negative rhetoric. 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. Attitudes around menopause are frequently negative, making it is easy for organisations to ignore the needs of women experiencing menopause in the workplace.

Due to this lack of support, women leave the workplace with considerable talent, knowledge and experience that is costly to replace. In 2019, a study found the financial cost of replacing an employee is estimated to be between six- and nine- months’ worth of an employee’s full-time salary.

Research has shown found that 77% of women over the age of 45 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, but there are many things that can be done to help.

Menopause in the workplace: good practice

World Menopause Day is held annually on the 18th of October and is a great opportunity to open discussions about menopause in the workplace and to take the first step towards breaking the taboo.

As more women go through the menopause during their working lives, it is vital that employers encourage conversations to ensure they get the right support. There are many key things to put in place, such as:

  • Education and awareness
  • Implementing menopause workplace guidelines and policies
  • Training managers at all levels to have those much-needed conversations
  • Supporting all employees – no matter their circumstance (i.e. women that work on the road)

Menopause friendly workplace

To create a menopause friendly workplace, education of your managers and workforce is key.

Education and awareness promote a menopause friendly workplace in which health and wellbeing issues are well understood by the entire team, and managers are educated to make provisions for affected employees when requested. By creating an open culture where menopause in the workplace is discussed as naturally and as inclusively as other wellbeing topics, you encourage its normalisation.

In a menopause friendly workplace, 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 any potential negative impact on the business.

Menopause policy in the workplace

Businesses must create and implement specific menopause policies in the workplace to offer the flexibility needed for women 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.

Employers must find ways to support their female employees during this time. To reduce the stigma, managers need to be educated about the symptoms and possible effects that the menopause can have. Menopause policies in the workplace may be as simple as:

  • Considering flexible working models, such as hybrid working
  • Providing managers with specific training and development
  • Offering obligatory comfort breaks
  • Reviewing workplace temperature
  • Supplying guidelines for where women can source specific healthcare information
  • Continuously facilitating a supportive and open dialogue
  • Reviewing current policies and asking for feedback

For more information see our Menopause Matters training page.

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