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Why Employers Must Take Menopause Seriously

Do you understand the impact that menopause and perimenopause can have on a woman, their partner and their family? And does your business offer adequate support to colleagues who are going through it or supporting a loved one right now?

If not, it’s time to do something about it.

Most women in their 40s are affected in some way by perimenopause, while the average age for a woman to go through menopause is 51.

So needless to say, this is an issue that affects a significant number of working age women.

In the financial services sector alone, around 128,000 women - around one in ten employees - are currently going through the menopause, according to the Fawcett Society.

But worryingly, their experience has made them seriously consider leaving their job, with one in four citing it as the reason they’re more likely to take early retirement. In addition, almost half said their menopausal status makes them less likely to want to progress in their role.

It’s therefore clear that businesses need to act to address this issue, so they can get the most out of their employees who are being affected by the menopause and perimenopause and prevent the loss of diversity in the workforce, which could have a detrimental impact to the business.

Menopause and the workplace

NHS England recently released the first national guidance on menopause, encouraging healthcare line managers and employees to adopt practices such as “normalising asking for help”.

But it also did something else - calling on employers in other sectors to “break the stigma” and introduce similar guidance, and we can’t understate how much this is needed.

According to research by the Fawcett Society, eight in ten menopausal women in the UK don’t believe their employer offers any basic support. That’s despite almost half saying their symptoms affect their ability to work and perform at their best.

For instance, 84 per cent of women polled admitted they have difficulty sleeping, while 73 per cent said they suffer from brain fog, which can be incredibly debilitating and embarrassing in the workplace. In addition, 69 per cent said they experienced difficulties with anxiety or depression because of the menopause.

As a result, many women are losing confidence and motivation at work, which is to the detriment of both them and their employer.

A huge proportion of menopausal women also feel not only that the issue is being ignored, but also that it isn’t even being taken seriously. In fact, 41 per cent of the women surveyed also said menopause symptoms were treated as a joke by colleagues, which suggests there’s a big cultural problem in some workplaces surrounding this issue.

That, in turn, explains why so many are staying silent on the subject.

In the financial services sector, just 22 per cent of women and trans men currently experiencing the menopause let their employer know, with many staying silent not because of their preference for privacy, but because of the perceived social stigma.

This backs up the findings of a separate report by the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC), which revealed nearly nine in ten women don’t tell anyone at work or seek adjustments, as they’re worried about privacy and worry about the reaction of others.

As a result, many women aren’t being forthcoming if they genuinely need to take off work, with some preferring to cite anxiety or depression as a reason for being absent, instead of telling their boss they’re suffering with menopause and perimenopause symptoms.

According to the select committee report, 31 per cent of menopausal women have taken time off work due to their symptoms, so it’s clear that there’s a strong business case for taking action on this issue.

According to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, almost eight in ten women going through menopause are currently in work, so by introducing menopause policies and support for these vital members of your team, you could make a massive difference to your business. You could, for instance, reduce staff absenteeism, boost productivity, increase staff morale, improve staff retention, enhance your reputation as an employer…the list goes on.

It is clear that a massive cultural change is required, with menopause and perimenopause no longer being considered a taboo subject, and women going through it getting the type of support and respect they deserve.

What practical steps can you take to support menopausal and perimenopausal women?

Introduce a perimenopause and menopause guidance document and policies

Set out in writing what type of support your business will offer to colleagues, and make it accessible to everybody. Your policies should be regularly reviewed, so you can quickly identify what’s working and what isn’t, and make changes where necessary.

Build an open culture

Women experiencing menopause and perimenopause symptoms should feel able to be honest with their managers about what they’re going through and why they might need time off. If they can’t do this, then there is a cultural problem in your business.

But as it stands, many women feel unable to be honest about the menopause, to the point where just 26 per cent of women who’ve been in work during the menopause had taken time off work due to their symptoms - and just 30 per cent of these women cited menopause as the main reason for their absence.

Women working primarily with younger colleagues or in male-dominated workplaces are particularly uncomfortable about saying they are menopausal. Many blamed stereotypes that older women are emotional and incompetent, while others feel that anything to do with women’s health is too much of a taboo subject.

Perhaps most significantly, some menopausal women believe their manager or colleagues wouldn’t know what to do or react well if they were open about what they are experiencing.

Employers therefore need to foster an environment where women can feel confident when dealing with their manager about any health issues, safe in the knowledge that any matters regarding women’s health in particular will be taken seriously. This could include creating a women’s network, both to raise awareness and educate colleagues.

You can help to achieve this not only by encouraging your team to be more open day-to-day, but also by creating opportunities and forums for people to share their stories and experiences. Imagine how impactful it would be for senior leaders (both male and female) to talk about their experiences to open up conversation.

For more information and resources on this issue, download the Fawcett Society’s Menopause and the Workplace digital toolkit.

Offer training and support

Menopause and perimenopause shouldn’t be dismissed or ridiculed in the workplace,, but it possibly points to a lack of education among colleagues. You can address this by offering training on this topic to line managers and employees, so everyone understands the impact it can have and the symptoms it can cause.

This should include specific training for managers on recognising symptoms, so they are able to offer timely and appropriate support, and show the right levels of emotional intelligence to deal with it in a suitable way.

Training on this issue may also have the added benefit of educating perimenopausal women, many of whom may not have made the connection between any symptoms they are currently experiencing and wider hormonal changes.

That could, in turn, empower them to seek the medical support they need early on, which could hugely lessen their symptoms in the future.

Offer menopause-friendly workplace facilities

You can make small changes to the workplace to make working conditions better for menopausal women, such as offering desk fans to reduce temperatures and easy access to cold water and toilets.

Flexible working

Allowing staff to work from home or be flexible with their hours can help reduce levels of sickness absence right across your business, so it could be particularly beneficial to women with menopause symptoms who might not feel comfortable coming into the office.

Offering flexible working opportunities could be crucial in helping women remain confident about working throughout this time in their lives and continue with their careers. That, in turn, can help to avoid staff churn, and let you hold on to some of your best talent.

Menopause symptoms have prompted about one in ten women to leave work, while many more have either reduced their hours, gone part-time or not applied for promotion. This suggests that this issue is a key contributor to the UK’s gender pay gap and the glass ceiling that women in many professions often face, so offering support to perimenopausal and menopausal members of staff could help your firm address these much wider issues too.

Conclusion

Taking practical and positive action on menopause and perimenopause is a vitally important way to attract and retain talented women and help them thrive in the workplace, which is good for you, your business and your clients.

At the same time, it could significantly bolster your credentials as an inclusive and caring employer.

But sadly, many businesses have failed to take the steps we’ve outlined, despite the wealth of evidence that they could make a positive difference.

These measures don’t have to be prohibitively expensive or hard to put in place. And if you feel this menopause and perimenopause is a taboo subject, it’s important to stress that you don’t need to be having deeply intrusive and personal conversations with members of staff.

After all, you don’t demand or expect detailed medical information from an employee who is pregnant or on maternity leave, yet you will still be mindful and considerate to their situation and act accordingly.

Acting proactively could transform the working environment both for perimenopausal and menopausal women and those who are currently supporting a loved one.

They can go to work feeling confident that the working environment, culture and company policies are designed with them in mind, and in turn feel valued, loyal to your firm and keen to progress up the career ladder.

So don’t delay, and you’ll soon see the benefits right across the board.

To find out more about how to make sure everyone in your team is treated with the respect, dignity and fairness that they deserve, read our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion introductory guide.

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