Happy business woman working together online on a tablet, menopause

Article by Angela Watson, Age Campaign Manager at Business in the Community

October saw Menopause Awareness Month, with World Menopause Day on 18 October. There was a tremendous amount of commentary across social spaces and many businesses announced new policies and procedures.

This is a huge contrast to when Business in the Community (BITC) started supporting members with action on menopause. Even two years ago, menopause was still very much a taboo subject. When we launched our menopause employer toolkit, with our academic partners from The Open University, University of Bristol and De Montford University, our research found that half of women felt menopause was an uncomfortable subject, and nearly a third said their experience of discussion of menopause at work was as a joke.

Fast forward two years and attitudes are finally changing. Over the last month, I have seen a range of voices commenting on menopause at work; including men and women, young and old. There is also more understanding that menopause can be an issue for trans and non-binary people born with female identity.

Why is menopause an issue at work

It is important to see that menopause is not a women’s issue, and certainly not one for older women alone. As a society, we need to see this as a transition that is common to all women, and some trans and non-binary people too, yet is experienced uniquely by each of them.

As many people transitioning through menopause are working, this becomes a clear workplace issue. Work makes menopause symptoms worse through stress, long hours and high workload and a quarter of women have considered giving up work as a result. Nearly a million may have already done so. But women of menopausal age, most commonly between 45 and 55, are a rapidly growing element of the UK working population. And given the labour and skills shortages we are seeing as a result of the pandemic, we need all the workforce experience and talent we can find.

What can employers do?

Business in the Community’s Menopause in the Workplace toolkit explains what employers can do to support women as well as trans and non-binary people experiencing menopause at work. Actions include:

  1. Awareness-raising and communication: This is essential to break the taboo, and should be directed at the whole workforce, not just women. Less than half of women disclose their menopause status at work, so employers should create an environment where menopause is treated as a natural process and women have the confidence to seek support.
  2. Policies and procedures: More and more businesses are launching menopause policies, either as standalone documents or as part of a wider well-being approach. Absence policies should ensure that menopause-related sickness does not start any absence procedures.
  3. Workplace adjustments: Environmental and physical adjustments, such as appropriate workplace temperature and ventilation, adequate water, rest and toilet facilities, and provision of appropriate clothing where uniforms are required, are all helpful.
  4. Flexible working: This can provide important support for menopause symptoms, e.g. insomnia, fatigue, anxiety or depression, and can reduce absenteeism and increase wellbeing and productivity.
  5. Training for line managers: This should cover understanding of how menopausal symptoms can affect women and what policies and procedures are available, plus developing listening skills and sensitivity, including guidance on how to have difficult conversations.
  6. Support groups and specialist support: Providing informal, peer-based support is valued, in order to offer a safe space for women to discuss and share experiences. More formal support can include educational programmes and specialist support, perhaps through an employee assistance programme.

BITC actively supports employers to better support women as well as trans and non-binary people experiencing menopause. All women experience menopause and most experience symptoms that impact their quality of life in some way. But with the right support from employers, those symptoms can be managed and those employees can continue successfully at work, to have a meaningful and positive career.

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