With over 30 potential symptoms, perimenopause and menopause can be a debilitating time for those going through it, and it is heartening to see the recent focus ‘Menopause in the Workplace’ has been receiving.  Many employers have taken the first steps to introduce supportive mechanisms, however sadly, the Fawcett Report (2022) reported that 7 in 10 menopausal women still say their workplace still has no basic support – support networks, related absence policies, awareness raising amongst staff - in place.

Many are now more aware of the physical symptoms of menopause, but there is a worrying lack of awareness of the emotional and cognitive symptoms experienced– high levels of anxiety are reported by 51% of those going through menopause, along with 20% diagnosed with depression, particularly in the 3 to 4 years after periods stop.  Other symptoms include poor concentration, loss of confidence, memory problems, panic attacks, anger and irritability - all of which can take a toll on a woman’s working life.

The Business Case for Change

People over the age of 50 are the fastest-growing segment of the UK workforce, yet one in five of those experiencing menopause symptoms end up leaving work before retirement age.  Around half of those experiencing symptoms state that their symptoms had a negative impact on their work, including finding it hard to meet deadlines, concentrate in meetings, make decisions and work effectively with other colleagues.

With it costing upwards of £30,000 to replace an experienced staff member, having a supportive culture, policy and framework will save employers thousands.  Couple that with the additional benefits of reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, improved performance and motivation, increased employee satisfaction, and an overall impact on the reputation and brand of an organisation, it makes sense for employers to introduce impactful yet cost-effective supportive measures for those affected. 

A lack of understanding of the legal implications of not having support in place can also be costly -  ACAS reported a 44% rise in menopause-related tribunals recently,  with some cases paying out around £65,000.  It can be difficult to navigate the different legislation that protects those going through menopause - although there is no specific law covering menopause, the Equality Act (2010) includes protected characteristics such as age, sex, etc.  Also, under Health and Safety legislation, employers must ensure a physically and emotionally safe working environment for all employees. 

Breaking Through the Stigma

Unfortunately, even with its recent spotlight, many going through menopause still find it difficult to speak up in the workplace when struggling - 47% of sufferers say they wouldn’t state if the reason they had a sick day was down to menopausal symptoms.  There are several reasons for this, including being perceived negatively in the workplace (46%), feeling their ability would be questioned (41%), and seeing menopause being treated as a joke by others at work (41%).  

Coping with hormonal and physical changes can leave many women feeling embarrassed, confused and isolated, all making it difficult to be open about their experience. This can result in many women not putting themselves forward for promotional opportunities, not taking on extra responsibilities, and not having the confidence to put their thoughts and feelings forward when required.  Cultural change is the first step in ensuring this group feel safe and protected enough to speak up about their support needs. 

How can Employers support their affected staff?

Putting into place effective support mechanisms is a journey that involves the entire organisation, not just those adversely affected, and there are several points to consider:

  • Listen
    Before introducing any new processes or making any changes, listen to those affected and gain insight into how they feel, how they have been affected and what would help. 
  • Engage
    Changing culture and mindsets will involve the whole organisation, and consulting with as much of the workforce as possible will help prepare employees for any new changes and help embed any new policies and processes. 
  • Equity and Diversity (EDI)
    Any support and policy change must consider transgender women and non-binary individuals – the language used must be inclusive.  Also, bear in mind that menopause is still a taboo subject in some cultures, and some may prefer to access support anonymously rather than face an uncomfortable discussion. 
  • Raise Awareness
    Raising awareness of menopause, menopause myths, and menopause symptoms is the foundation of change, and helping teams understand and support colleagues who are impacted. This can take the form of awareness sessions, workshops, videos, guides, and campaigns. 
  • Manager Support
    Managers must be trained by specialists to support their teams in order to recognise the signs that a team member could be struggling with menopause symptoms, develop support plans, and have difficult conversations. 
  • Policies
    Developing and promoting a relevant and accessible menopause policy that clearly outlines what support the organisation offers and how to access this support, shows that the employer recognises the need for support, values the employee’s continued contribution, and will not be judged for coming forward.  

    Any policy must include tangible support mechanisms, such as flexible working, quiet spaces, sickness and absence support, and being understanding of medication time out. These actions should tie in with other organisational health and well-being policies which can benefit all members of the organisation, such as creating a well-being passport which can promote open discussions between peers.
  • Environmental changes
    Ensuring the environment is set up to support those with symptoms includes having a well-ventilated office, and ensuring there are private areas for those needing to have open conversations, quiet spaces for those needing a noise break, and that any uniforms are made from breathable material – and any other changes highlighted through previous consultation and engagement methods.
  • Allow time
    Time must be spent to build up the correct policy and workplace practices so that people can access the right support. Time must also be given to allow for the cultural change to take place, for the tone and language around menopause to change for the better, so that those affected feel comfortable enough to access support.  Menopause treatment itself takes time to take effect, and it may take some time for women to see some real changes.  Workplaces must allow for this uncertain time, and ensure support is in place throughout this treatment journey.
  • Continual Monitoring
    What milestones can be put in place to ensure the business is progressing in the right direction? Menopause support is an ever-changing field, and regular ongoing monitoring and feedback must be in place to ensure effective support is being offered.

Providing the right support for those going through menopause can feel like a huge task for employers, with several factors to consider such as EDI, stigma, and cultural change.  The focus on menopause does mean that guidance and support are now more readily available – take the first step this World Menopause Day and contact our team here at Connect Three to support you to begin this important journey.