Women make up nearly half of the UK workforce, but around 900,000 have quit their jobs because of the menopause. Employees can really struggle with symptoms in the workplace and it’s still a bit of a postcode lottery when it comes to the help you get on the NHS. So if you have middle-aged women on your workforce, offering support should be a no-brainer.
Yet there is still a head-in-the-sand attitude when it comes to certain sectors of the business world. A quarter of employers think they are not affected by menopause issues according to our research, with companies saying they believe their organisation is not affected by any employee menopause-related health condition or don’t have any employees who have gone through the menopause.
Undoubtedly there may be some male-centric workplaces which are less likely to be touched by menopause, but most employers will need to be prepared to help menopausal staff at some point. And to avoid making assumptions. Although the average age for menopause is 51, symptoms can start many years before and other factors, such as illness or surgery, can also be a catalyst. Employers should be careful not to take a narrow view over which staff need menopause support based on age or appearance alone.
This isn’t a minor problem. Without support and understanding from their employers, many women have no choice but to take time off when their symptoms are at their worst. In fact, thirty-two per cent of employers have found that absence and sickness are the menopause issues which have most affected their organisation. It also affects a company’s bottom line – 23% of employers reported an impact on productivity and 19% found the menopause had a negative effect on engagement. And of course, the knock-on disruption of colleagues cannot be ignored.
Many of today’s businesses are recognising the need for a realistic approach, with companies like Asos, Vodaphone, Aviva, Santander and Channel 4 offering support and flexibility as part of their benefits package. Menopausal women are not prepared to put up with suffering in silence. The same study found that 25% of companies reported an increase in requests for flexible working relating to the menopause and 18% had received requests about the working environment and work attire.
With the study finding that 18% of companies reported resignation or poor retention of people with menopause-related health issues, failing to take a supportive approach could be a huge oversight. Knowing that their employer will be understanding has become a priority for women, making this kind of employee benefit a way of attracting and retaining staff.
A few changes to the work environment can make all the difference. Look at the possibility of flexible working and being able to work from home to make symptoms more manageable. Adjustments within the work environment, like sitting next to a window or moving from an enclosed space at work to one that is open and airy, can allow your staff to thrive.
And in a uniformed organisation, it’s important to think about whether the uniforms can be made from natural fabrics. Man-made fibres tend to make hot flushes and sweats far worse. In this case issue extra uniforms, so affected staff can change if need be.
Menopausal women is the fastest growing demographic in the workforce, so this issue is just too significant for employers to disregard whether through misunderstanding, embarrassment, or ignorance. Supporting staff through the menopause is not just about doing the right thing or showing that an organisation cares; it makes business sense too if a company wants to retain its most experienced demographic.
Dr Mridula Pore, company CEO, Peppy
Ex McKinsey, Novartis BU head, PhD in chemical engineering, MIT