How employers can support those going through the menopause

Happy mature old female mentor coach supervisor training young interns at group office meeting professional workshop, menopause

Article by Helen Normoyle, co-founder of My Menopause Centre

Menopause in the workplace has become a hot topic of late, with MPs calling for menopause to be listed as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act and for a national Menopause Ambassador to be appointed to help tackle the toxic taboo that remains around it at work.

The recent report by the cross-party Women and Equalities Committee also found that employers’ lack of support for menopausal symptoms is pushing “highly skilled and experienced women out of work”, with knock-on effects on the gender pay gap, pension gap and the number of women in senior leadership positions.

It called on the government to act and said there should be a duty for employers to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees. It seems the very least that they should be calling for right now. 

After all, the statistics are stark. It was revealed earlier this year that a staggering one million women want to quit their jobs – following the 900,000 who have already left their jobs over the last couple of years – because of lack of menopause support. This, when Britain is in the grip of a talent attraction and retention crisis. 

It seems crazy when around 15.5 million women in the UK right now are in varying stages of menopause transition (perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause) and are the fastest growing workage demographic, with around 4.5m women aged 50-64 currently in employment.

For two thirds of women, the physical and psychological symptoms of the menopause – and there’s up to 40 of them ranging from brain fog, anxiety and depression through to hot flushes – will negatively affect their working life, sometimes severely. 

Sometimes, people don’t even realise symptoms are part of the menopause transition – they’ll think they’re not coping with the stress of work, then those symptoms will exacerbate anxiety, they feel too fearful or embarrassed about talking about it, and so the vicious circle turns. 

As a result, an estimated 14 million workdays are lost every year due to menopause symptoms and too many women are quitting their at the peak of their careers. Those who remain often give up any hope of career progression, or they’re reducing hours or going part-time because of lack of support.

Because even though it’s great that celebrities including Davina McCall, Lisa Snowdon and Penny Lancaster are now speaking out about the menopause too, real change is still a long way off when it comes to menopause support in the workplace as we approach this year’s Menopause Awareness Month. 

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It seems it’s down to employers instead to take matters into their own hands. Yet three quarters of UK businesses still have no menopause policy – and having a policy in itself is just window dressing unless businesses proactively act upon it. 

Every single company in the UK needs to take menopause seriously. If women are supported through menopause, they’ll remain at work and progress up the career ladder. Employers will improve retention and avoid the costs of retraining and hiring. According to the recent report from the Women And Equalities Committee, if a woman earning £25,000 a year leaves her job due to problematic menopause symptoms, it will cost her employer more than £30,500 to replace her. And that’s before helping women feel valued, boost their self-esteem and give a very welcome boost to their bank balances in the face of the escalating cost of living crisis. A recent UCL survey also estimated that women lose between £10,000 to £20,000 in wages and pension contributions because of the impact of menopause, which in turn negatively impacts the gender and pension pay gap – this really needs to change.  

Implementing a menopause policy at the very least will signal that your business is a menopause safe space. But that in itself is not enough. 

You need to be proactive – culture change comes from the top down, so visible support and leadership at the most senior levels in the organisation is key to fostering a gender and age-inclusive culture. Different solutions might be required for different parts of the organisation – the workplace adjustments need to work for the employer as well as the employee, so what’s possible in a call centre might be different to what can be offered to someone in the support office. 

Raising awareness of the menopause, symptoms and solutions for all staff with training or workshops from menopause experts is also essential. My Menopause Centre has been doing this with companies including DFS, with some businesses also offering staff one-to-one appointments with My Menopause Centre doctors with regards to treatment, which can only help take pressure off the NHS.

Practical measures include allowing staff to wear more breathable work clothes, providing desk fans and allowing menopausal women to control the temperature in the space where they work.

Allowing flexible/hybrid working is also vital, and if possible, introduce menopause leave. 

Menopause support groups backed by senior leaders are also a great idea, to signal that open communication around menopause is part of your company culture, which will help attract talent. 

Even if you’re a small outfit, just having a work menopause champion could be helpful, so people know someone’s there if they’re not comfortable talking to their line manager or HR, and there are loads of free resources out there they can use, such as on the My Menopause Centre website

It’s also an excellent idea to provide mental fitness training, therapy or coaching to address issues around confidence, perhaps through company health insurance. Cognitive behavioral therapy can decrease the intensity of hot flushes and help people deal with the psychological symptoms of the menopause.

As I’ve seen in my many years in the corporate world, best practice must always be seen from leadership, who should lead by example when it come to be being vocal and open about menopause support. Issues around the menopause are often tied to ageism, so any inappropriate behavior or derogatory remarks about menopause must always be called out and challenged too. 

Because though it’s great that we’ve got now got so many MPs and celebrities calling for action when it comes to menopause, it’s time that all businesses started demonstrating from the top down that they are now taking menopause seriously too, truly embracing workplace equality and putting their money where their mouths are.

About the author

Helen Normoyle is a women’s wellness champion and co-founder of My Menopause Centre. This femtech start up comprises an online clinic and community designed to empower women to take control of their menopause and thrive, using evidence-based information and advice from menopause experts.

Helen has held Chief Marketing Officer roles with Boots, the BBC and DFS has also worked in the mobile technology sector with Motorola and in broadcast and telecoms regulation at Ofcom.

Helen is a non-executive director at Allied Irish Bank, Ireland’s leading financial services provider and #1 digital bank, where she also chairs the Sustainable Business Advisory Committee. Helen is also a non-executive director of Travelodge.

Helen Normoyle
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