Why you need a menopause policy

Menopause awareness has been gaining traction recently, and rightly so; women of menopausal age are now the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace. In fact, some 4.3 million women aged 45-60 are currently employed in the UK. While some of these will be blissfully unaffected, many will experience an impact on their work and home life. 

The average age for menopause in the UK is 51, however symptoms can begin many years before. With women working later in life than ever before, organisations need to offer better support to this group in order to retain talent and stay ahead of the competition.

Each person’s experience will be different but we know that one in four women will suffer severe symptoms. We should not underestimate the effect that this will have on the individual and also on their work colleagues. Indeed, it’s been estimated that around 10% of women stop work altogether due to menopausal symptoms.

Thankfully, we’re now seeing an increasing number of employers implementing the right awareness and support measures, and the Government Report on Menopause established that employers need to take this issue seriously. In a recent study of over 5,000 people, 1 in 10 respondents said their organisation had issued a menopause policy or guidance, which just a few years ago would have been extremely rare. So as an employer, what does this mean for you? And what can you do to help this valuable part of your workforce?

Impact on work

Studies have shown that menopause symptoms can have a significant impact on attendance and performance at work. In fact, around half of women surveyed say they find work difficult due to these symptoms. The main symptoms that women feel affect them at work are:

(1)       Poor concentration

(2)       Tiredness

(3)       Poor memory

(4)       Depression or feeling low

(5)       Reduced confidence

(6)       Hot flushes

Some women have found themselves accused of underperforming, or even misdiagnosed as mentally ill. A study commissioned by the British Association of Women in Policing found that some female police officers felt less able to function normally at work due to tiredness and insomnia associated with the menopause.

Menopausal symptoms can be significant enough that women decide to leave their jobs early or hold back from promotions at work.

On the other hand, widespread lack of awareness means that many women don’t actually recognise that their symptoms are due to the menopause (or perimenopause – the period leading up to the menopause), and therefore don’t talk about it or ask for help. 

The good news is that when the menopause is handled correctly in the workplace and women feel comfortable talking through concerns with colleagues and managers, related absenteeism and performance issues can be reduced. 

What can employers do to help?

Of course, employers are responsible for the health and safety of all their employees, but it also makes good business sense to support the needs of an age-diverse workforce. Higher retention rates, improved performance and better morale all stem from a holistic approach to employee health and wellbeing.

A workplace wellbeing policy which recognises the menopause is a good place to start, and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine introduced new guidelines on menopause and the workplace in 2016. These offer practical advice to support women, their colleagues and managers in tackling the occupational aspects of menopausal symptoms.

The guidelines include recommendations about working conditions for menopausal women, such as:

(1)       Training to increase awareness of the potential effects of menopause in the workplace

(2)       Adapting the workplace environment where appropriate (for example changing temperature of rooms and having fans available

(3)       Making flexible hours for some women an option

(4)       Creating opportunities for women to discuss symptoms that are affecting their work

The guidelines also make recommendations for women whose symptoms are affecting them at work, such as: 

(1)       Encouraging discussions with managers about practical needs

(2)       Speaking with the occupational health service and talking with colleagues

(3)       Providing advice about a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing

(4)       Seeking advice from their GPs about available treatment such as HRT

This is an excellent managers guide to the menopause.

An occupational health specialist can be a great support if you are looking to develop awareness and support measures in your organisation. If you have an employee experiencing difficulties with menopausal symptoms in the workplace, or would like to talk through how to develop your own policy, please feel free to call us at any time.