Sharon Vibert is a Director of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, an organisation which makes it easy for businesses to introduce menopause awareness, education and support.
Menopausal women are the fastest-growing workplace demographic. What can organisations do to offer them the right support?
Menopause is a transition in every woman’s life. It generally occurs at the average age of 51 – although can be earlier or later than this. But there are so many myths and misconceptions flying around about menopause, it can sometimes be hard to separate the facts from the fiction.
For far too long, menopause has been swept under the carpet. It’s been laughed at, stereotyped and generally made a mockery of. While menopause itself symbolises the end of a woman’s periods and fertility, the balance of hormones starts to change years before this, in a time called perimenopause. For some women, this can mean experiencing a whole host of often-unpleasant symptoms. Which I think we’d all agree is no laughing matter.
The report for the Government Equalities Office ‘Menopause transition: effects on women’s economic participation’ highlighted the fact that women over 50 are the fastest-growing workplace demographic. We know that we’re all working much later in life – so this could mean women are working 15, 20 or more years post menopause. And employers must grasp the importance of retaining their valuable talent.
The symptoms of menopause are unique to every woman. They can be physical – we all think of a hot flush by association, but irregular periods, headaches, joint pains and urinary tract infections are also up there. What many people don’t realise is the impact of the psychological symptoms, such as low mood, sleeplessness and fatigue, memory loss and anxiety, to name just a few. Definitely time to shake off the stereotype of menopausal women and face the reality. Women experiencing these symptoms are suffering and need support. Again, the statistics shout for themselves. Three in four women experience symptoms, one in four serious symptoms. And these don’t switch off at the start of the working day – many women are experiencing symptoms work every day, often in silence. Sadly, one in four think about leaving work because of this, and as many as one in ten actually do.
Statistics many employers might be surprised to learn. Talented, valuable employees are losing confidence in their ability, to the extreme point of ending their careers or career ambitions. On the flip side, we are seeing an increasing number of employment tribunals due to discrimination for sex, disability and gender purposes – and menopause falls under all of these categories in the Equality Act 2010. Offering menopause support is the right and responsible thing to do, and it’s also a commercially sound thing to do.
How can organisations do this? In lots of ways, most of which are very simple and straightforward. First, get the conversation started. Menopause is a word that should be normalised. Awareness events, engagement sessions, training workshops, online support groups… this is about getting every single colleague on board and helping them to understand menopause. Not just women. Not just menopausal women. Everyone. Line managers need to feel equipped and comfortable having confidential, sensitive conversations, and colleagues need to feel able and supported to ask for these discussions.
Signposting where help is available is important. Always recommend a woman speaks to her GP for medical information, suggest they set up a conversation with their line manager, outline what support your organisation has in place, such as referrals to HR or Occupational Health, and direct them to your Employee Assistance Scheme if you have one.
For most women, a few small reasonable adjustments will be enough. A desk fan, an extra uniform, a quiet space for breaks, temporary flexible working. Remember, you are supporting a transition, so these adjustments may change as symptoms do, and they won’t be forever. But a small change can make a big difference.
Thankfully, menopause in the workplace support is on the rise and more companies are recognising the value of incorporating this into their portfolio of policy and guidance. Experienced, talented workers need to be nurtured… and that’s how the most successful companies thrive.