According to recent research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) women over 50 are the fastest growing demographic group in the workforce. This is also when they are most likely to be having to find ways to manage the symptoms of the menopause. The average age at which the transition begins is 51. We also know that more than half – 63 per cent – report that the menopause has a negative impact on their working lives. This includes difficulty concentrating (65 per cent), feelings of increased stress (58 per cent) and incidents where they lost patience with clients or colleagues (52 per cent). It’s hardly surprising that a third felt the need to take time off, yet only a quarter felt they could open up to their line manager and explain the true reason for their absence.
All of this disruption, caused by a completely natural event, is taking place at a time when many of these women are at the top of their careers. Having worked hard and progressed, they face the prospect of having to deal with a completely new set of issues which have the capability of, at best disrupting, at worse derailing, what they have worked so hard to achieve. For one in four, symptoms will be severe, and some will feel they simply have to give up their careers altogether.
That’s not just a tragedy for them and their families, but for the businesses that employ them and their colleagues who both lose a wealth of experience, knowledge and skills if that happens. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The menopause is unavoidable, but managing the symptoms and providing the help and support necessary to cope with those symptoms, even when severe, is something all businesses need not only to consider, but to take active steps right now to address.
The good news is that this is happening. Most importantly the menopause is now on the business agenda and actions are being taken. These include the most important single first step – talking about it. Making the issue visible and allowing spaces where people feel comfortable in talking about the menopause is critical. This is also important for the other 50 percent of the workforce – the men. All too often ‘women’s issues’ become seen as just that and risk being devalued as a result. But, both as co-workers and family members, men are impacted, too.
There is, of course, a sound business reason for providing this support. As we’ve seen, women over 50 are a significant group of workers. Their experience, skills and knowledge are an essential component of any successful business. Having policies which recognise the impact of the menopause, and a range of options which offer support and guidance, should be an essential part of any health and wellbeing programme. They should be something which organisations take pride in and are happy to promote in their recruitment programmes. When Santander piloted a menopause awareness programme with its employees, 75 per cent reported that their symptoms were ‘less bothersome’ and 90 per cent said they were more positive about the company as an employer.
The menopause is a perfectly natural life event. However, handled without sensitivity and care, it risks causing unnecessary stress to a significant part of your workforce. Handle it well, and it will in turn make a significant difference – in terms of both healthcare and in their careers – to the way women in your workforce feel valued and supported. That in turn benefits the wider business, by allowing you to retain talented female employees. That in turn leads to continuity, and shows potential future female talent that yours is an organisation that truly understands their needs throughout their careers and acts to make a real difference for everyone.
Dr Mridula Pore, company CEO, Peppy
Ex McKinsey, Novartis BU head, PhD in chemical engineering, MIT