With the news that the UK’s first education programme is being developed to help women understand what to expect when they go through the menopause transition, (the National Menopause Education and Support Programme, designed by experts at UCL and leading women’s health charities), menopause is in the headlines once again.
But while anything to raise awareness around the menopause is to be applauded, it seems too many British businesses are still not providing proactive, meaningful menopause support in the workplace – last autumn’s first All-Party Parliamentary Group report into menopause found the majority of employers still do not have menopause policies in place. The consequences of this lack of workplace support were called out in the Women and Equalities Committee report which said it is pushing “highly skilled and experienced women out of work” and that the overlooked impact of menopause is causing the UK economy to “haemorrhage talent”.
One in 10 women have quit their jobs because of lack of menopause support, and it’s feared another million could follow them as a result too. Acas estimates 2 million women over 50 have difficulties at work due to menopausal symptoms, with one third saying they feel they have to hide symptoms, while half say they still feel unable to discuss menopause in the workplace.
All this despite the fact that there are around 15.5 million women in varying stages of menopausal transition (perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause) in the UK – and it’s the fastest-growing work-age demographic in the country.
The average age for a woman to go through the menopause in the UK is 51, with perimenopause typically starting in the mid-to-late 40s (but it can be younger – every woman’s menopause journey is different). Some three out of four women will experience symptoms, which on average last four to eight years, but sometimes much longer, and around 70% will find coping with at least one symptom very difficult. While some women will sail through menopause, for many it can be a challenging transition both physically and emotionally.
But while the government rejected calls to consult on making menopause a protected characteristic earlier this year, along with recommendations to trial menopause leave, as the data clearly shows, it makes good business sense to for employers to step up and offer support, expert training and guidance to all employees, reframing it from ‘just’ a ‘woman’s issue’ to one of wider inclusion in the workplace.
Implementing a transparent, robust, inclusive and well-communicated menopause policy is a great starting point to help create a safe space for anyone experiencing menopause symptoms and to normalise the conversation around it.
Training HR and occupational health teams as well as line managers to better understand the impact menopause symptoms can have on what are some of the most experienced and productive members of their workforce, and the types of support and workplace adjustments that can help, will ultimately help businesses increase productivity, retention and engagement. It will positively impact the bottom line and enhance your reputation as an employer. At the very least, it will illustrate that you have a female-friendly culture.
Appropriate workplace adjustments will differ from business to business and team to team but can range from flexible and hybrid working to the provision of free period products, menopause leave and breathable workplace uniforms. Temperature-controlled workstations, along with desk fans and plentiful supplies of cold water should be provided, as should easy access to toilets. Providing a quiet room or space for those who need it could also be introduced.
Providing support from or access to specialist menopause doctors and nurses from dedicated menopause healthcare providers as part of a company’s occupational health offering can be life-changing. Similarly, offering therapy or counselling, in particular cognitive behavioural therapy, could also help with hot flushes and support women through the many psychological symptoms of the menopause, such as heightened anxiety and brain fog.
There are businesses specifically dedicated to menopause you can employ too who can provide menopause health care, plus support and training for staff on site from qualified experts and medical professionals.
All these elements will help make a positive difference to your business.
Menopause symptoms often last years and change over time, so it’s essential to have regular follow-up meetings with employees to understand the evolving nature of the support they need to continue to thrive at work.
Informal menopause support groups backed by senior leaders, or even just one menopause champion or a mental health first aider, can also help women feel confident and safe in discussing the support they need at work.
Ultimately, this is about culture change, and so visible, active leadership from the very top of any organisation is a must. As the saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast, so it’s essential to be clear on the outcomes that you want to deliver, figure out how to measure them and set targets for each – and then be transparent on progress.
Prioritising menopause education and awareness and creating a menopause-friendly workplace will not only have a hugely beneficial impact on your employees, which will improve engagement, but will also have a massively positive impact on wider society too.
Together, by implementing some or all of these measures, we can all improve the lives and wellbeing of menopausal women and ensure the impact of symptoms doesn’t negatively impact their careers, which can only be a positive for your business too.
And even before the National Menopause Education and Support Programme arrives, there are already some great, free resources out there to get you started when it comes to providing menopause support in the workplace – so don’t wait until it does to make your organisation menopause-friendly.
Helen Normoyle is a women's wellness champion and co-founder of My Menopause Centre. My Menopause Centre provides a website that offers free, evidence-based information and advice on all stages of the menopause transition, thirty-eight symptoms of the menopause and a questionnaire that results in a free, personalised menopause assessment. My Menopause Centre also offers a private online menopause clinic that provides a holistic, evidence-based and personalised approach menopause care as well as tailored support for businesses who want to create a menopause-inclusive culture.