Three years ago, you’d have been hard pushed to find an organisation with a menopause policy. Since then, there’s been something of a seismic shift, with the topic of menopause gaining traction in headlines and company agendas alike. More and more employers are raising awareness of menopause as part of their company culture, and understanding the need to put the right menopause support in place.
About time. Because for too long too many women have suffered in silence.
What is menopause?
Menopause is a natural transition in every woman’s life. In short, it means the end of her periods, but it’s not something that just happens overnight. The balance of hormones in a woman’s body changes, usually over a number of years, in a time known as ‘perimenopause’. This in turn can lead to some women experiencing symptoms. Not all, but three in four are likely to.
These can be physical, such as hot flushes, sleep problem, aches and pains, fatigue, or irregular periods, or psychological, such as memory problems, changes in mood and loss of confidence, anxiety and worry. Put these in a workplace context, and some women can find their job is impacted. Brain fog can mean they can’t focus as they used to. Sleeplessness can lead to lack of concentration. But the culture of silence which has traditionally shrouded menopause means speaking out is too hard to do.
That’s why I’m delighted to see these barriers being broken down. But there is clearly more to be done. It’s a topic that is urgent and important, for employers and employees alike.
Why is it so important?
Menopausal women are actually the fastest-growing workplace demographic. The average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51 – although it can be earlier or later than this due to surgery or illness – and we are all working much later in life. A menopausal woman could easily work for another 15, 20 or even 30 years post menopause. Sadly, for some, their symptoms become so difficult to manage at work they consider leaving. In fact, one in four think about it. This means employers are losing valuable talent, as well as incurring unnecessary recruitment costs.
A 2017 report written for the Government Equalities Office explored ‘Menopause transition: the effects on women’s economic participation’ and highlighted the essential need for employers to put the right support in place. As well as losing employees, some companies have been taken to tribunal – menopause is covered under the Equality Act 2010 under sex, gender and disability discrimination – clearly something all organisations should avoid.
What can companies do?
Getting the conversation started at work is a good place to start. When menopause is brought out into the open, women feel less isolated. Training workshops, policies, guidance, menopause support networks… anything you can do to bring it into your company’s culture. Offering reasonable adjustments such as desk fans, extra uniforms or flexible working need to be available. Remember, these are likely to be temporary, but small changes really can make a big difference.
I’m delighted to see more forward-thinking organisations bringing menopause awareness to the fore. These include Aviva, HSBC UK, Atos, Sainsbury’s Group, Southeastern, many NHS trusts, universities and Government bodies.
I’m glad to say this is just a snapshot of companies we’ve worked with – small and large, private and public sector – and the whole mindset surrounding menopause is shifting for the better. There are clear and compelling business cases to introduce support, but for the majority they do it simply because it’s the right thing to do.
It’s time every single organisation introduced menopause support in the workplace. Menopausal women are finding their voice, and what they are asking for is to continue making a valuable contribution in the workplace.
Deborah Garlick is the Director of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace. She is passionate about helping thousands and thousands of people live better lives by raising awareness and understanding of the menopause, changing perceptions and getting everyone talking about it. The author of Menopause: the change for the better and founder of Henpicked.net.