The British Standards Institution (BSI) recently released a workplace standard designed to address societal taboos and assist employers in retaining their valuable workforce. With a focus on menstruation, menstrual health, and menopause in the workplace, employers are recommended to enhance managerial training and implement flexible working schedules that take these factors into consideration, therefore promoting the overall well-being and health of employees throughout these key stages of life.
According to research conducted by The Fawcett Society ‘one in 10 women who continued working during the menopause ultimately left their jobs due to the symptoms they experienced.’ And the impact isn’t limited to employees going through the menopause. A large proportion of employees aren’t discussing fertility, menstrual health and menopause at all in the workplace, with 3 in 4 people feeling that their employer doesn’t create an open environment to discuss it, which could be reflective of the fact that 47% of companies have no supportive policies in place for employees struggling with fertility (‘The 2023 Workplace Infertility Stigma Survey’ carried out byFertility Family).
How do menstruation, perimenopause, menopause and fertility issues affect the employees who are going through these stages?
- Physical symptoms: Some individuals experience discomfort, pain, fatigue, and mood swings during their menstrual cycle. These symptoms can affect their concentration, energy levels, and overall well-being.
- Some employees may need to take sick leave or time off to manage severe menstrual symptoms or conditions like endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Physical symptoms: Perimenopause, the transitional phase before menopause, can bring symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, irregular periods, and mood swings. These symptoms can impact productivity, focus, and overall job performance.
- Emotional challenges: Hormonal fluctuations during perimenopause can lead to mood swings, anxiety, and depression, affecting an employee’s emotional well-being and interpersonal relationships.
- Physical and cognitive changes: Menopause can lead to physical symptoms such as vaginal dryness, urinary issues, and cognitive changes like forgetfulness. These may affect an employee’s confidence and job performance.
- Emotional well-being: Hormonal changes can contribute to mood disorders and affect an individual’s mental health.
- Emotional distress: Struggling with fertility issues can be emotionally draining. Employees may experience stress, grief, and anxiety, which can affect their focus and job satisfaction.
- Medical appointments: Fertility treatments often require medical appointments, which can result in time away from work.
How do the effects of menstruation, perimenopause and menopause affect companies?
When employees are experiencing the symptoms listed above, their work quality and attendance are likely to be affected. This may lead to issues in the workplace around capability or even disciplinary action due to increased sick leave. In turn, this creates a risk of employers being accused of discrimination.
When employers have a range of policies in place that support all of their workforce, their employees are often less stressed, happier and more motivated. When employers are supportive, it has a positive impact on staff retention and recruitment too.
How do the new BSI guidelines link to fertility?
It is important to be aware that women who are struggling with medical conditions such as endometriosis, PCOS and early menopause, may also be going through fertility treatment, as these conditions can lead to difficulties in conceiving naturally.
The number of people having fertility treatment has increased considerably over the last 30-40 years. According to the HFEA, ‘In 1991 there were around 6,700 IVF cycles recorded at licensed fertility clinics in the UK. By 2019, the number of cycles had increased tenfold to over 69,000.’
Despite the impact that this has had on workplace absence rates, with time off for appointments, treatment and associated symptoms, only 16% of companies have a supportive fertility policy in place.
What should employers be more aware of when employees are undergoing fertility treatment?
Fertility treatment is emotionally and physically challenging and not feeling able to be open about the reasons for absence or symptoms leads to additional stress, which in turn can affect work performance, attendance and treatment success.
It is therefore in the best interest of everyone, employers and employees, to also have a workplace fertility policy in place, to ensure equality and support.
Understanding the importance of equality for everyone going through fertility issues and treatment is crucial for businesses. Businesses need to keep up-to-date with medical developments and social changes, the new laws and the support available, to help employees to make informed choices at every stage of their personal fertility journey. Education is the key to supporting both employees and employers. To increase awareness in the corporate world, companies need to create and keep improving their fertility policies.
- ‘BS 30416, Menstruation, menstrual health and menopause in the workplace’ Dr. Maria Tomlinson
- ‘Fertility treatment 2019: trends and figures’ HFEA
- ‘One in four women undergoing fertility treatment experience unfair treatment at work’
- ‘The 2023 Workplace Infertility Stigma Survey: do UK workplaces offer sufficient support for employees on their fertility journeys?
- ‘Menopause and periods guidance is a ‘magnificent step forward’ BBC, 31st May 2023
- ‘Menopause and the workplace’ Fawcett
Charlotte Gentry is the Founder of The IVF Network which is born out of her 4 year journey through IVF. Charlotte is an entrepreneur who has built a successful events and communications agency and due to her challenges of trying to balance work and starting a family, has built the fastest growing membership community designed to help people and businesses navigate their way through the complexities of fertility.