By 2025 there will be 1 billion women in the world experiencing menopause. This means that 12% of the world’s population will be experiencing what, for many, will be a very difficult time, both emotionally and physically. If we add to this the fact that women over 50 are now the fastest-growing proportion of the workforce, we know that the time is ripe to take action to tackle the stereotypes of menopause and deal with helping women to manage their symptoms both at home and at work.
I’m now in the fortunate position to manage my own company, which gives me some flexibility to cope with my symptoms, but I remember those days when the onset of peri-menopause caught me unawares and I hid my problems from my manager. I used to work long hours at a pivotal point in my career, with a promotion in my sights, and I was worried about being overlooked and stigmatized. I only spoke in hushed corridor conversations to colleagues, seeking solace and then rushing to get to the next meeting. I was afraid of admitting to myself and others what was happening.
Looking back, the fear of failure and not admitting that I needed to get some help with my symptoms stopped me from dealing productively with something that should have been much more straightforward.
The impact of menopause in the workplace
Unlike pregnancy in the workplace, a timespan when – thanks to specific policies- companies accommodate our adjusting emotional and physical needs; the menopause impact on women is not readily addressed in a positive way.
According to research by the CIPD, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 3 out of 5 working women between 45 and 55 are suffering due to menopause and a third of these have taken time off work due to their symptoms. What’s most concerning is the fact that a quarter of these women say they cannot discuss the reasons for their absence because their manager is not supportive.
Also, in a study carried out in 2019, by Health and Her, findings showed that the UK could be losing up to 14m working days a year due to menopause leading to loss of productivity for the company and loss of confidence for the member of staff.
For this reason, organizations in the UK such as CIPD, Gen M, and Henpicked have been campaigning forcefully for employers to proactively manage menopause and make the workplace more menopause friendly in line with the best practices provided by the British Government Report on Menopause at Work.
This has led to organizations such as Aviva, Channel 4, HSBC UK, Sainsbury’s Group, Southeastern, many NHS trusts, Universities and public bodies picking up on this very important seed change. Progressive policies and training for managers have been put in place, and these companies are now tackling the topic head-on to remove the taboos.
The US is following suit, where campaigners are starting to move the cause forward for better support for women experiencing menopause, albeit Barbara Hannah Grufferman, author of “LOVE YOUR AGE: The Small-Step Solution to a Better, Longer, Happier Life,” and recognised expert of positive and healthy ageing, admits that the US still lags behind the UK in taking this topic out of the shadows.
From what I can see, there are more organisations in the UK geared to women’s health and menopause than there are in the US – she writes-, where menopause continues to be something better left off the list of dinner table topics. And there just seems to be more of a push to get partners, co-workers, children and everyone else more in touch and in tune with the whole idea of menopause in the UK, then in the US. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done for both countries.
What organisations can do
When menopause is managed correctly, not only can it reduce absenteeism, but it also enables women to talk about their concerns with their work colleagues and managers.
Employers have responsibilities for the health and safety of all their employees, but there are also clear business reasons for proactively managing an age-diverse workforce – writes Dr Louise Newson in an article for the Australasian Menopause Society-. Some managers have been slow to recognize that women of menopausal age may need specific considerations and many employers do not yet have clear processes to support women coping with menopausal symptoms. Recommendations from research in this area are for employers to best support menopausal women as part of a holistic approach to employee health and well-being and include risk assessments to make suitable adjustments to the physical and psychosocial work environment, provision of information and support, and training for line managers.
A great example of workplace support is Santander UK who in July 2020 was hailed as one of the first major organizations to offer a personalized menopause programme to all of its 23,500 staff. By providing active leadership help and flexible work schedules, they are normalizing the discussion on this topic.
Getting it right
If we want to continue to move the needle on the number of women in leadership roles and maintain their valuable contributions to a company’s bottom line, employers need to support women in midlife addressing both the physical and emotional aspects of menopause.
Simple changes to the management style can make a world of difference. Changing organisational cultures, building relationships based on trust, empathy and respect will make it easier for an employee to feel comfortable about raising a health issue like menopause with her boss. Also, providing opportunities to network with colleagues experiencing similar issues and making considered adjustments to the workday and to performance targets are some of the recommendations for line managers to consider.
Ultimately, offering flexible working and work-from-home opportunities is a good option for employers to ponder. In light of the recent changes to workplaces brought about by the pandemic, this is more likely to be offered widely to all staff and will directly benefit women experiencing symptoms.
The overall emphasis is on a variety of approaches to menopause transition at work, to cater for women’s differing experiences.