Why employers need to do more to support menopause in the workplace

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Article by Heather Jackson and Sam Simister, co-founders of GenM

Mention the word “menopause”, and it’s likely to elicit a stunned silence, a joke about hot flushes, and embarrassing euphemisms around ‘the change’.

Despite the menopause being a transition that will directly affect half of the world’s population, it is considered by many to be the last taboo in modern society, particularly in the workplace. This means that many employees with menopausal symptoms suffer in silence, with many being forced to pause or even end their careers.

The UK workforce as a whole is ageing and, according to the Office for National Statistics, menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace1. Evidently, they need to be healthy and happy to be productive for longer. But menopausal women, as well as non-binary and trans people in menopause, experience up to 48 clinical, medical and credible symptoms that are sometimes debilitating and sometimes invisible in nature. These can be physical, emotional and psychological and can have a huge impact on their confidence, mental health and productivity. What makes this even worse is that, for many, this transition comes at an age when they are reaching the highs of their careers.

At GenM, we undertook some research to see just how the menopause and perimenopause affect women. According to our Invisibility Report, 88% of women surveyed said they want their workplaces to be better set up for menopausal colleagues, while only one in five would say that their current employer is well-informed about the menopause. What’s more, 90% of women who said their careers were on a high when entering the menopause felt completely blindsided and unprepared for the change.

We think that it is crucial to address the role that workplaces have in understanding the menopause and making it a more positive experience for those experiencing it, whilst helping to normalise the conversation for those who don’t. After all, the menopause doesn’t just affect those going through it. It also affects anyone who lives, works, or socialises with them. And it affects businesses too, from employee retention to morale, and ultimately bottom lines.

For business leaders, this can feel like an insurmountable problem and, for many who are just waking up to the issue, the problem is knowing where to start. But, while it can’t be denied that there are many changes in the working world that need to be made, there are some straightforward first steps that can help to make a difference in the workplace.

Clearly, there’s a pressing need for more education and awareness surrounding the menopause, as there remains an air of mystery and misinformation that cloaks the subject. Our research shows that more than half of women (51%) can only name three of the 48 potential symptoms. If women themselves can only name three, how much less do their male colleagues know about the menopause? At GenM, we believe that the ​​first major step to making menopause better understood and supported in society, at home and at work is to normalise the conversation. Responsible employers and managers can play their part by creating a workplace culture where there is no penalty for respectfully raising or openly discussing this natural transition.

With our Invisibility Report showing that three in four women still feel that the menopause is a taboo subject that can’t be spoken about publicly, normalising, destigmatising and demystifying the conversation is key. What’s more, establishing an environment for people to talk about the menopause comfortably and authentically is vital for employers to learn which accommodation strategies would best benefit colleagues.

For example, an employer might consider flexible working schedules, offer options to work from home, provide fans to help with hot flushes, or host menopause information sessions to empower staff to discuss the topic confidently and raise awareness for menopausal symptoms.

Over the last few months, we have also seen huge companies such as ASOS, Timpson and Kellogg’s pledge to do more for menopausal employees, from offering up to 10 days paid menopause leave to offering to cover the cost of Hormone Replacement Therapy treatment. We also have over 40 companies onboard with GenM from Marks & Spencer and Next to Simba and Modibodi. Each of these brands has pledged to do more to understand the needs of the menopause and represent them in workplace policies, as well as in products, services, signposting, and marketing campaigns. All of these represent a huge step in the right direction, but it’s only the beginning.

According to our research, more than half of British women admit their employer knows very little about the physical and emotional effects of the menopause. This simply isn’t good enough. After all, the menopause affects every element of your business where people are involved, whether employees or customers.

At GenM, we walk you through understanding the impact of menopause symptoms and help your company to use its platform to normalise the conversation surrounding the topic. Additionally, we help you to better represent the menopause in future products, services, signposting, campaigns, and workplace policies

While it is not currently a legal requirement to have a menopause policy in place, we think organisations should help to support their employees through ‘the change’. But any policies cannot simply be a case of box-ticking. As mentioned previously, the starting point needs to be the culture of the workplace, from normalising the conversation to spreading awareness of symptoms.  If the environment is not supportive to the needs of employees then any policies will not be effective.

The menopause directly affects half of humanity, and indirectly, it impacts all of us. With more women working into their later life, and 10% of women’s symptoms lasting up to 12 years, this issue will only become more and more important in the workplace.

We’re working together with over 40 brands, big and small, to create a world where the menopause is no longer a barrier for women in the working world. WIll you join us?

About the authors

Friends and businesswomen, Heather Jackson and Sam Simister, co-founded GenM, having personally experienced the distinct lack of support, understanding and accurate representation of the menopause at home, at work and in society.  

With over 40 brands onboard as Founding Partners, GenM is fast becoming a voice for the menopause that’s too loud to ignore. Alongside companies such as Marks & Spencer, Holland & Barrett and Next, they are working to transform attitudes and normalise the conversation, and helping brands to better cater for menopausal customers and employees, ultimately improving the health and happiness of millions with menopause-friendly products, services, signposting, workplace policies and marketing campaigns.

Both founders have had long and varied business careers. Heather Jackson, having founded organisations such as An Inspirational Journey and Believe Corporate Relations, has spent decades helping organisations to draw out the best from their talent and enable them to reach their full potential.

Currently serving as Future Development DIrector at Innocent, Sam Simister’s career includes international experience in the food industry with companies such as Safeway Stores PLC (Chilled Foods), International Britannia (USA), Kings Supermarket (USA), Marks & Spencer PLC as well as her own ventures both home and abroad.

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