Menopause faces many people during their careers, myself included. It is therefore vital that they are made to feel included and supported by their managers and leaders. For this, we need to ensure we are fully informed and aware of both the symptoms and their impact so that we can successfully support individuals where needed. This in turn will ensure that businesses retain their most valuable and experienced staff.
Recent research shows……..
Recently, the Women and Equalities Committee said in relation to menopause; a lack of support in the UK was pushing women out of work.
The cross-party group wants menopause to become a protected characteristic like pregnancy, to give working women more rights.
This is a welcome discussion that is long overdue I feel. Until now, stigma, shame and dismissive cultures have put women, trans men and individuals identifying as non-binary, at a considerable disadvantage in the workplace and also when it comes to career progression. Menopause, as a natural stage of a women’s life, should be discussed as freely as pregnancy and the same rights and support needs to be available.
Too scared to seek support
At age 55, I have already seen two colleagues leave their positions, exclusively due to not feeling they could cope at work due to them experiencing severe menopause symptoms. As a woman of that age also, I understand the dilemma of suffering memory loss and brain fog but being afraid to tell a superior in case any future actions or decisions are questioned due to this disclosure.
But this must change……
It is now imperative that we build or adapt workplaces, and our society; to not only support those going through menopause but encourage some of the most experienced and skilled workers in our economy to thrive.
The omission of menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act is undoubtedly no longer tenable; given 51% of the population – including some trans men and people who identify as non-binary – would experience the transition at some point in their lives.
Most go through menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, with symptoms lasting about four years on average, although one in 10 can experience them for up to 12 years.
Many people (including myself), thought that ‘hot flashes’ were about it when it came to menopause. That is due to poor information and education among both men and women from an early age. This is not the individual’s fault, as at present unless someone goes out of their way to educate themselves about the symptoms and impact of menopause, nothing is offered!! So when the frighteningly low moods come, with no warning, and the brain fog means you struggle to multitask at work you are in no way prepared. Also as very few workplaces have policies and procedures around menopause, it is difficult to know how to seek support.
More information can be found using the link below, but symptoms can include:
- sleep, memory and concentration problems
- hot flushes
- low mood
- headaches and migraines
About 4.5 million 50 – 64 year-old women are currently employed and women with at least one problematic menopausal symptom were 43% more likely to have left their jobs by the age of 55. Understanding and well-informed managers can avoid this and retain their valuable and experienced staff.
Unfortunately, research has found that very few women sought workplace adjustments, such as flexible working, with many citing worries about an employer’s reaction
The government has stated that it has recently appointed a women’s health ambassador and set up a menopause task force to look into workplace support which is a promising start.
Also, next year, the introduction of a single charge for 12-month prescriptions in England will hopefully cut the cost of hormone-replacement therapy.
So as managers and leaders, what can we do in our own workplaces to address this issue?
- Normalise conversations around Menopause – a BBC survey found 70% of respondents did not tell their bosses they were experiencing symptoms. Include regular staff meetings that mention this issue (as you would talk about other health-related problems), to ensure that all present and new staff are aware and up to date
- Introduce a menopause-specific policy so that it is seen as an everyday, acceptable issue and not a ‘taboo’ and ‘silent’ subject. Just as many employers now have a stress policy, some employers have brought in a menopause-specific policy which provides guidance for managers and reassurance for employees on how menopause-related issues will be managed and what support is available
- Introduce flexible working for days when symptoms are bad – some sufferers reported that reluctance to tell their employer had resulted in disciplinary action against them, due to absence levels and that having the option to work at home would have negated this. Merely a later start to miss the rush hour can help greatly.
- Ensure desk fans are easily available for people who need them or offer desks by windows that can be opened.
- There is also a ‘World menopause day’ which could be a good opportunity to start these discussions.
An ageing population and an increasing number of women in the workforce means in the future there will be a higher proportion of working women at menopausal age. We cannot afford to lose these individuals and their wealth of experience and knowledge – more needs to be done.
Every woman will experience it differently so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Not all women will want to talk about it at work, which is fine. The main thing they need is understanding and flexibility and an awareness that the support is there if needed.
You can access online guidance and advice on the issue from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and trade unions.
Jayne Warwicker BSc – Founder of The Lioness Power Coaching System