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Why employers need to take the menopause seriously

View profile for David Westell
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Why employers need to take the menopause seriously

The menopause is a natural part of ageing for women that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman's oestrogen levels decline.

When you boil it down like this, it seems strange that it’s a taboo subject that people often talk about in euphemism. There’s nothing for women going through “the change” to feel embarrassed about and it’s well overdue for employers to recognise this, tackle any stigma, support and inform their workforce.

Because menopause is not just an issue for women: it’s an organisational issue.  All managers need to know about it and understand how they can support their staff.  Awareness on this topic is fundamental and reducing the stigma attached to it is vital so that more people will talk openly about it. 

Studies have shown that menopause symptoms can have a significant impact on attendance and performance in the workplace.

With our population now living longer and working longer, it's vital that staff are supported to stay well and thrive in the workplace.  Some women may cope well with the physical and emotional changes, but others may experience particular difficulties both in work and out of work. And we all know how problems outside of work can impact on performance at work.

Did you know?

  • There are 3.5 million women over 50 in the workplace.
  • In the UK, the average age for a woman to go through menopause is 51.
  • Around one in a 100 women experience menopause before age 40.
  • Three out of four women going through the menopause experience symptoms, one in four could experience serious symptoms.

Over the course of the last eight months, the world’s attention has been focused on Covid-19. Its effects have been pervasive, touching on almost every aspect of our lives – whether the virus has directly affected us, or indirectly by the impact of lockdown.

For many of us, our workplace may have changed to our home during lockdown. However, menopause is not so happy to adapt, and while the world has been temporarily placed on pause, menopausal symptoms haven’t just stopped.

Recently we’ve seen high-profile women talk openly about their menopause experience – Michelle Obama has gone on record to talk about her experience of going through hers in the White House. While most of us don’t have such high-profile workplaces, the message is clear. Menopause is a great leveller, a common experience shared by women across the world. 

What are other employers doing?

Many companies, such as Santander, have been doing some great work when it comes to menopause in the workplace support. Santander have not only launched guidance for staff and managers, but have also sent out communications to ensure that all staff are engaged about the subject. Lockdown has not lessened their focus, but shifted it to where it’s most needed.  Their work and support includes:

  • Recognising that working from home can be beneficial through:
    • The freedom for women to adjust their working conditions, such as temperature control.
    • The ability to adjust start times for those suffering from poor sleeping patterns
  • The move to video meetings to facilitate the ‘face to face’ discussions which so many people draw support from, albeit remotely
  • Providing additional guidance and ideas for colleagues on how to manage their menopause journey during the pandemic
  • Private online chat groups that staff can join as a safe space to engage remotely with others going through menopause
  • Sharing colleagues’ stories of their experience
  • Holding webinars and online lunch & learn sessions
  • Developing members of staff as champions to provide additional support

Where do we go from here?

2020 has been a hugely challenging year. We applaud businesses for stepping up to meet the new norms, such as operating with a remote workforce, or dealing with Covid-safety measures within workspaces. Especially those businesses which continue to support their colleagues suffering from menopausal symptoms, which may potentially have worsened over recent months.

Here are some small steps to get you started:

  1. Refer to available guidance from a number of institutes and services such as Acas and The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).  Translating and applying it within your own workplace is the next step. 
  2. Consider how best you can recognise and support menopause at work
  1. Keep the conversation going. What can you do within your organisation to get everyone talking about menopause?