If the menopause isn’t already on your radar, it probably should be. And that’s not least because organisations not making accommodations for menopausal women, or actively discriminating against them are increasingly hitting the headlines - and losing high-profile tribunals.
More importantly, the menopause is something that’s happened, happening or going to happen to around half of the population – and to a really important part of your team.
Women over 50 are the fastest growing section of the UK workforce. They are often in senior positions, with years of valuable experience behind them. Losing them from your business is potentially a huge problem, impacting your continuity, productivity, and diversity. And more women than you might think ARE leaving the workforce because of the menopause.
How big is the problem, and how is it impacting my business?
A Menopause and the Workforce report was conducted by the Fawcett Society and Channel 4 in 2022. It found that 77% of menopausal women had one or more symptoms that they found ‘very difficult’. Far from the night sweats and hot flushes traditionally associated with menopause, more women actually described their biggest issues as being trouble sleeping and brain fog.
73% of women said they experienced brain fog, which impacts their ability to concentrate and make decisions. 84% experience trouble sleeping, exacerbating the problem, and 69% experience anxiety or depression due to menopausal symptoms.
At work, 44% said their ability to do their job had been affected. 61% had lost motivation, 52% had lost confidence. One in every ten women employed during their menopause have left work due to their symptoms, 14% have reduced hours, 14% have gone part time, and 8% have not applied for a promotion.
Meanwhile, an estimated 14 million working days are lost each year, due to the menopause.
What IS the menopause?
It’s a really good question, because there’s actually a lot of myths and misinformation about the menopause, and a lot of misunderstanding – including within the medical community. It’s why many women struggle to get treated properly, or get misdiagnosed, often put on antidepressants instead of HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy).
Another fairly recent survey found that 7% of women had to visit their GP more than 10 times before receiving adequate help or advice. 44% had to wait for more than a year, and 12% waited more than five years.
That’s partly because menopausal symptoms can be wide ranging and difficult to put together. The menopause itself is a backwards diagnosis, occurring only when a woman has not had a period for more than a year. But in the 5-10 years preceding that, women will go through what’s now known as perimenopause, where their hormone levels start to drop, and symptoms start to gather while periods still continue, albeit often more randomly in terms of arrival, heaviness and duration.
There are in fact 34 menopausal symptoms, which can all seriously impact women’s lives, relationships, and careers. These include low mood, irritability, poor sleep, brain fog, forgetfulness, heart palpitations, painful joints, headaches, digestive and urinary issues, thinning hair, itchy skin, sore eyes, loss of interest in and pain during sex.
In short, it’s a lot, and it’s high time the world stopped pretending it wasn’t happening, destigmatised the menopause, and supported women to navigate it.
What does the government say about menopause and the workplace?
The menopause is covered under the Equality Act 2010 under sex, gender and disability discrimination – clearly something all organisations should avoid. And thanks to high-profile celebrity interest, it’s more recently risen up the Government agenda.
In July 2021 the Minister for Social Mobility, Youth and Progression asked members of the roundtable on older workers to look at menopause and employment.
The subsequent independent menopause and employment report which Government accepted in its response – was also underlined by the response to Recommendation 6 of the Women and Equalities Select Committees report: government response.
One of the recommendations was the appointment in March 2023 of a Government’s Menopause Employment Champion.
What can businesses do about the menopause?
There’s lots of very good reasons for businesses of all shapes and sizes to start tackling the menopause, from keeping up with the times and protecting their business to increasing productivity, reducing sickness absence, and improving morale. Here’s five things your organisation can do now:
1. Start talking about the menopause
If your organisation isn’t already talking about the menopause, it’s time to start. That might look like pulling together a committee of colleagues who can begin to think through what your menopause policies should look like.
There’s loads of free resources out there, including downloadable menopause policy guides like this one from HR Advisor.
2. Raise awareness
Raising awareness and educating people about the menopause is essential in bringing it out into the open. It might be you create a wellbeing campaign around Menopause Awareness Day in October, pull together articles for your intranet, or create your own menopause in the workplace resources. There are great resources, including social media images and links, from Wellbeing of Women here.
3. Invest in training and accreditation
It’s really important to make sure your HR team and line managers throughout your business understand the menopause, know how to talk about it, and know what options are available to help women manage symptoms in the workplace.
There’s great advice from CIPD (the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) on how to start conversations, how to undertake risk assessments, make practical accommodations that can help create a menopause-positive work environment, and how to manage performance and support people to thrive at work.
Meanwhile, menopause in the workplace leaders Henpecked have CPD accredited menopause training tailored for managers, HR professionals and colleagues, best practice toolkits and tools that can help you with awareness raising.
You can also get information from The Menopause Charity, who have created The Menopause Charity Quality Mark, or gain The Menopause Friendly Accreditation, which can show off your work in becoming a menopause friendly workplace.
4. Develop menopause accommodations
Small changes can make a really big difference to people. That might be agreeing flexible working or increased breaks for women experiencing heavy periods due to the menopause, providing sanitary products in bathrooms, or providing fans, alternative uniform options or cooler working spaces for those suffering from hot flushes.
Other accommodations might include changes to working hours, tasks or duties, time off for medical appointments, or organising a stress risk assessment with HSE (Health and Safety Executive).
Remind people about their Equipsme plan
Typically, private medical insurance doesn’t cover the ongoing management of menopause symptoms, but if diagnosis is part of your company plan, women now get an open referral for AXA Health to assess if covered to see a specialist through their new Menopause Pathway.
They can also access a second opinion from the Equipsme 24/7 GP, and hormone level blood test through our partners Thriva.
How Equipsme Supports the Menopause