According to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, around 75-80% of women of menopausal age are in the workforce, with women over 50 becoming the fastest-growing demographic within the UK’s workforce (CIPD). With this being the case, why isn’t menopause at the top of work health and wellbeing concerns for every employer?
As we enter October, we begin the World Menopause Awareness Month, with October 18th as the official awareness day, designated by the International Menopause Society and World Health Organisation, celebrating women, and people, as they age. World Menopause Month/Day is an opportunity for everyone to come together to raise awareness around the realities of menopause, combatting stigma, misinformation, and in doing so providing the means for management and support.
October 18th is rapidly approaching, so we take a look at how employees are affected by menopause and what employers need to do to build a work culture that recognises and supports those experiencing these changes. We also talked to Emily Perry, HR Director and founder of The People Consultancy; she created Work With the Menopause in collaboration with Dr Louise Taylor, a GP and menopause coach, providing solutions for businesses on how to support women going through the menopause.
What is menopause?
Many often assume menopause is just hot flashes and mood changes, but these misconceptions and their lack of understanding are damaging to women and others experiencing these changes. Menopause is much broader and experienced differently by each person.
Menopause occurs at the median age of 51 as oestrogen levels begin to lower, but people can experience symptoms either earlier or later. Perimenopause is the lead up of symptoms before a woman has no menstrual periods for 12 months in a row. This can take up to 10 years.
Some of the symptoms can include:
- Hot flashes
- Heart palpitations
- Low sex drive
- Vaginal dryness
- Brain fog
- Poor memory
- Night sweats
- Joint pain
- Skin itching
- Mood changes
- Difficulty concentrating
Menopause can leave women battling a mixture of physical and emotional symptoms, affecting overall wellbeing. These physical, psychological, and behavioural symptoms differ from person-to-person, but should all be understood to help provide the proper support for a person experiencing menopause.
Who is affected by menopause?
With 3.5 million women over 50 in the UK workforce, it is no surprise that it is predominantly women that are affected by menopause in the workplace. However, menopause is not just a gendered issue, it is a wellbeing one.
Menopause can affect many different employees:
- Transgendered people
- Intersex people
- Relatives, colleagues, carers supporting someone going through menopause
No two person’s experience is the same, so it is important to be aware of different circumstances. Establishing an open environment for discussion is incredibly helpful for those going through menopause, as well as those that are experiencing it second hand. Feelings of isolation become lowered and talking to others will raise awareness and further understanding.
Menopause and the law
Employers have a legal Duty of Care to their employees. Employers must abide by health and safety employment laws, but also ensure the general wellbeing of employees on an individual level. This is one way menopause comes into the legal obligation of the employer, where it can affect someone’s general sense of wellbeing in often drastic ways.
If an employer is seen to discriminate against staff because of issues relating to menopause, there can be grounds for an employee to claim for gender reassignment, sex, disability, or age discrimination.
However, menopauses’ direct relation to the law is still unclear in employment, resulting in a further lack of reassurance for someone experiencing it.
The stigma of menopause in the workplace
Wellbeing of Women states that although women occupy nearly half the UK workforce, around 900,000 of them have quit their jobs due to menopause. This is an astounding figure! Women are unwilling to discuss menopause-related issues at work due to the negative stereotypes and stigma surrounding menopause, leaving these employees feeling embarrassed and isolated in their positions.
Where does the stigma come from?
The stigma around menopause in the workplace is rooted in embarrassment, an overriding thought that it will jeopardise professional standings, and most importantly a lack of understanding and knowledge on the topic.
Statistics from the Circle In report ‘Driving the Change: Menopause and the Workplace’ reveals just how deep these stigmas run. For example:
- 70% of respondents who have experienced menopause don’t feel comfortable talking to their manager about their needs
- 52% of respondents say their manager’s awareness would have made them feel more supported
- 73% of respondents say their stress and anxiety levels were higher at work during the menopause
- 57% of respondents say their confidence at work went down during the menopause
- 76% of respondents say they would have liked more information, advice, access to support at work
- Only 3% of respondents rated the help they received at work as ‘excellent’
Emily Perry (from The People Consultancy) explained: “Employers cannot ignore the fact that 50% of the population will experience menopause. In our experience, the biggest hurdle working women face when going through the menopause is they don’t feel comfortable speaking to their employer about the symptoms they may be experiencing, and they don’t feel they can ask for help. This can lead to unexplained absences, unacceptable levels of absence and performance that is not to their normal standard. “
The breaking down of the stigma around menopause:
The first step in destigmatising menopause in the workplace is to establish a space for open discussion, normalising it, and encouraging those affected to outline their needs. Managers hold a key role to play in this, where it is their responsibility to encourage a work culture of open discussion around health concerns.
Efforts made towards destigmatising can prevent someone from:
- Losing confidence in their work abilities and skills
- Feeling at risk from ridicule and gendered ageism
- Taking more time off work and hide the reasons for doing so
- Having an increase in mental health conditions e.g., depression, anxiety, stress
- Leaving their job
Anything employers can do to bring menopause into a company’s culture and normalise it will help support staff and generally produce positive side effects for the whole organisation by promoting support and understanding.
Emily added, “If women don’t feel they are able to talk openly and honestly about their menopause symptoms, this could lead to formal action being taken by the employer, and a huge risk that an employer could be taken to a tribunal for unfair dismissal and potentially discrimination.
But beyond the fear of an employment tribunal, our aim at Work with The Menopause is to support the change of workplace cultures so that everyone is aware of the menopause and feels comfortable talking about it. We want women to feel empowered that they can talk to their (often male) boss about their symptoms and ask for support, and that they can be open and honest and feel no shame. We want HR professionals and line managers to feel confident in talking about the menopause and understand what support a business may need to offer. We work with businesses of all sizes and have developed a range of educational services such as training for HR and line managers, colleague webinars, guides and policy documents.”
What can employers do to support staff experiencing menopause?
There are lots of different approaches employers can take in tackling the stigma around menopause at work and providing support for those who are or have experienced it. Even just taking a simple approach can create a ripple effect of positive attitudes towards menopause.
Some examples could be:
- Online support communities and channels
- Workshops to raise awareness amongst all staff
- Posters/newsletters – showing awareness and support
- Regular informal conversations between managers and employees
- Flexible working/shift changes
- Ensure easy access to washroom facilities
The most important way employers can offer support is by educating themselves! The more you know, the more equipped you will be to help your staff and signpost to relevant resources.
Employers can also take an organisational approach in providing support for those struggling with menopause. This can be done by putting a workplace menopause policy in place. NHS Wales is a good example of an organisation achieving this successfully. Introducing a policy in 2018, NHS Wales constructed this menopause policy to outline why menopause is a workplace issue, show how to support employees, clearly establish the link between menopause and the law, and outline where employees can seek help.
Having a strong Employee Assistance Programme also offers employees another platform for confidential support, providing them access to a wide range of services whilst reducing the overall sickness absence of your organisation. EAP’s also provide emotional support with access to therapeutic services.
A vital element of any approach to menopause is to train managers and leading staff members, so to eventually educate the whole workforce. Training should include:
- Learning to talk/listen sensitively
- Learning to signposting
- How to talk with and encourage staff to raise any menopause-related concerns
- How different stages of menopause can affect staff
- Which support and workplace changes should be available
- Gender identity and reassignment discrimination & recognising how important it is to raise awareness, promoting inclusivity
What extra resources can be offered?
Where it is valuable to acknowledge the normality of menopause in life and open conversations and discussions around the topic, employers also need to be aware that not all women, and people, feel completely confident in talking about their own experiences at work. This is where signposting, online chat rooms, and introducing an occupational health professional to the team can help, offering support from outside sources.
British Menopause Society (BMS), established in 1989, is an external organisation that educates, informs, and guides healthcare professionals on menopause and all aspects of post-reproductive health.
Bupa’s approach to menopause in the workplace
One of Engage’s insurer partners, Bupa, is one of the many organisations that are working hard to develop their approach to menopause, both for their employees and customers. Having been spotlighted recently in articles, Bupa seem to currently be leading the way in their implementation of menopause policies!
Bupa’s Menopause Plan for customers is broken down into 6 easy steps:
- Pre-appointment questionnaire and symptom-checker – aimed to produce personalised care
- 45 minutes with specialised in menopause GP – phone/video
- Help to arrange referrals, tests, prescriptions
- Receive a care plan to follow – based on personal needs
- 15 minutes follow up meeting, 12 weeks following first GP appointment
- 24/7 support from specially trained Bupa nurses up to a year after the first appointment
Bupa also outlines the purpose and desired outcomes for their Menopause Plan: to provide advice and an action plan, access to prescriptions, access to blood tests and physical examinations, and access to professional referrals e.g., counsellors or physiotherapists.
Bupa has recently started supporting the campaign Menopause in the Workplace, by the charity Wellbeing of Women. The campaign recognises that menopause is an issue at work and women need support through positive and respectful communication. In supporting this campaign, Bupa is also committing to actively support and inform employees affected by or experiencing menopause! Bupa will donate 5% of each Menopause Plan sold to Wellbeing of Women, helping to fund research into women’s health.
Wellbeing and Engage
Menopause is a natural and temporary stage of someone’s life – affecting nearly half of the population! Being regarded as a taboo subject for so long has created damaging effects that have been difficult to emerge out of. But, as more and more employers are acknowledging the impact menopause has on every aspect of business and personal wellbeing, the approach to this natural phase in life is changing to one of positivity and support.
Menopause is not just a woman’s issue. It is something that affects everybody, whether directly and not, therefore it is imperative that each person is aware of its importance.
Here at Engage Health Group, we use a People-Centred Design focussed on three pillars of wellbeing – physical, and mental and financial – and the positive changes around menopause in the workplace affects mainly the physical and mental wellbeing of employees. of these pillars. Placing a focus on menopause adds to the creation of a work culture that employees will love to be a part of. Check out what else can be offered to employees to support wellbeing.
Contact us at Engage Health Group for our free no-obligation advice and support, where we simplify any enquiries.