Article by Finn Bartram, Editor at People Managing People
Menopause is a significant life transition that can be challenging for women to navigate, particularly in the workplace.
Despite affecting 50 percent of the workforce during their career, menopause is often stigmatised and not discussed openly at work, leaving many employees feeling unsupported.
For example, a recent survey found 8 out of 10 employees experiencing menopause symptoms felt unable to tell their boss this was the real reason for their absence or performance issues.
However, more businesses are waking up to the need for greater support and the costs to the bottom line if they don’t act.
So, how can we work together to normalise menopause in the workplace and embed support mechanisms to help staff through this life stage?
Turning a lose-lose scenario into a win-win
1 in 10 women, trans and non-binary staff in the UK leave the workforce due to the effects of the menopause. And 87% experiencing it fail to raise it with their employers due to shame and fear.
No experience of menopause is the same and the physical and emotional effects can be wide-ranging. But what they do have in common is that all can affect performance, confidence, and morale.
While the spotlight is on menopause in wider society, many businesses remain unprepared to deal with the impacts of menopause on their workforce.
The UK is one of the countries blazing the trail in promoting menopause awareness and support. While it has stopped short of legislation, the Government has proven it’s a priority issue by setting up a Menopause Taskforce focused on tackling taboos and stigmas, including at work.
Slowly, more and more companies are realising the benefits of turning this lose-lose scenario into a win-win by normalising menopause in a workplace setting and taking positive action to support staff if and when they need it.
Currently, menopause is not a protected characteristic in the UK, but discrimination on the grounds of sex, age, or disability is illegal.
Businesses today are under increasing pressure to keep up with changing public understanding and expectations when it comes to menopause. And if employers fail to adapt, they risk becoming vulnerable to legal action. Citations of menopause have increased by 75 percent between 2020 and 2021 in employment tribunals and we can expect this to continue.
Not only does offering greater support to employees going through menopause make ethical sense, but it also makes business sense too. The fastest-growing employee demographic today is women over the age of 50, representing a widening pool of talent.
The reality is, menopause affects most women at a critical point in their career when they are likely to be in a leadership position and carry a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.
So, if we want to continue to increase female representation at the top and maintain their valuable contributions to a company’s bottom line, things need to change.
Workplace menopause policies as standard
Over the past four years, interest in ‘Menopause Leave’ has increased by 1300 percent.
A menopause policy sets out an organisation’s approach to members of staff experiencing menopausal symptoms, and what support those employees can expect to receive. It signals to candidates that their employer cares about their needs and can provide a supportive environment.
It is a powerful message to younger employees too, who have this life stage ahead of them. A recent survey found 57 percent of respondents said if they were considering working for a company, it would be “very important” or “somewhat important” if a commitment to menopause support was expressed.
Companies looking to future-proof their health and DEI strategies have two options. Option one is to review and rewrite existing policies to include menopause-related protections and support. Option two is to create a standalone menopause policy.
With either option, the first step is to start the menopause conversation in the workplace with a published statement of intent and introduction to the company’s plans.
Arrange a whole company discussion to explain why you are introducing menopause policies, the benefits to all employees and invite staff to contribute their thoughts and ideas – in person or anonymously.
You may also want to complete a Risk Assessment as part of your obligation to protect the health and safety of the workforce. For those affected by the menopause this could include making sure that symptoms are not made worse by the workplace and making changes to help workers manage symptoms.
Once you have completed an assessment and have reviewed the views of your staff, it is time to design a policy that:
- Provides resources and training for managers to increase awareness around the issue and how they can best respond to support staff members
- Clearly defines how employees must report any health or performance issues relating to menopause and who they should speak to within the business
- Lists the initiatives or support available, including employee assistance programmes, health insurance, or mental health first aid, as well as external informational resources such as those published by the CIPD.
- Outlines the company’s willingness to offer reasonable adjustments to ease symptoms and support staff when symptoms are impacting their performance or wellbeing. This includes any flexible working options, paid leave, changes to duties, extra breaks to rest, or changes to the dress code
- Commits to increasing representation of women over the age of 45 in top leadership positions to act as role models for younger generations of staff
- Invites expert speakers to empower women within the workforce to make positive life changes to support their menopause journeys. Awareness days such as World Menopause Day and International Women’s Day are great opportunities to bring attention to the issue and generate engagement among staff.
Importantly, though, workplace menopause policies must continue to evolve. Businesses must remain responsive to changing attitudes, scientific research, and staff feedback, adapting their menopause policies in response.
About the author
Finn is editor-in-chief at People Managing People. He’s passionate about growing organisations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.