A significant cultural shift is required in the workplace to openly discuss menopause, says Sarah Davies, co-founder and director of Talking Menopause.
Menopausal women are demographically the fastest growing group of workers in the UK. Despite it being a natural life process for women, the menopause – and how menopause at work can affect your employees – is rarely discussed.
'Currently women are afraid to speak up about their own symptoms and ask for help when they so desperately need it,' explains Sarah. 'Productivity levels often fall dramatically and absenteeism increases, both having a direct impact on organisations’ profit levels.'
It is a serious issue considering every woman will go through the menopause. The average age range for menopause in the UK is 45-55 years old, which can represent a large portion of a workforce.
Menopause symptoms are wide ranging, from hot flushes and night sweats to brain fog and severe anxiety, resulting in with mental health issues. Every woman’s menopause experience is different, lasting for different periods of time.
Engaging in the menopause at work
'It is important that employers and managers acknowledge that the menopause is a natural life event, not an illness,' notes Sarah. 'Around 80% of women in the UK have symptoms and 25% of these have severe symptoms. More than three-quarters of women do not realise their symptoms are due to the menopause. This can be a challenge for them, their colleagues and employers.'
There are increasing numbers of menopausal women in work. But two-thirds of women say they have no support at work meaning women choose to introduce their own reasonable adjustments such as avoiding promotion, taking a lesser role, reducing hours, around 20% even leave work altogether. Many women are embarrassed and ashamed, and say they feel weak or have been mocked and made a joke of when discussing menopause at work.
Given the lack of awareness of menopause and support for women, it’s important to consider how menopause aware your organisation is. Consider:
- Is your organisation engaged in the menopause and are women given the confidence to be open about their menopausal challenges?
- Are the health, safety and wellbeing of menopausal employees effectively managed?
- How can women be supported on their menopausal journey to ensure productively levels are managed and optimised for individuals, their colleagues and the organisation?
'Menopause needs to be normalised, acknowledged and accepted across all levels of an organisation. It should not be treated in isolation,' says Sarah.
In a recent Talking Menopause client survey, 91% of respondents said there is little to no acknowledgement of menopause in their organisation. The results revealed around 70% of menopausal women have moderate to low confidence in discussing menopause at work with more than 80% sharing the menopause had a moderate to extremely high impact on their performance.
'Women may feel uncomfortable talking to managers about menopause, because they do not understand it and the impact and challenges it can bring,' she adds. 'By having these conversations, myths can be busted and a positive and inclusive working culture developed.
'We know when menopause is managed well, for example by an employer providing simple reasonable adjustments such as the provision of a desk fan or flexible working arrangements, it can prove beneficial for both parties, reducing associated issues such as absenteeism and improving productivity.'
The more control women have over their working environment often helps control the management of symptoms. But working from home can bring its own stresses and challenges, and menopausal women still need help and support from line managers.
'Keep an open mind and remember every employee’s experience of menopause is different,' Sarah warns. 'The psychological symptoms of the menopause have the greatest impact so knowing that anxiety, low moods, memory loss and panic attacks are symptoms should aid a manager’s understanding and approach.
'A manager’s role is vital as they are the first point of contact for most employees,' she adds. 'Would they know, for example, that GPs should be following the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) menopause guidelines, which recommend HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and CBT (cognitive behavourial therapy) for first line treatment? Many organisations provide CBT for their employees.'
Initiate the conversation
So, how can we get the conversation started? 'Raising awareness through workshops and conferences (often now online) helps give women confidence to speak up and ask for help, to get a clear understanding of their symptoms and their impact by facilitating menopause conversations,' Sarah suggests.
Human resources, occupational health and employee assistance programmes are all important areas of business which can actively support individuals and positively impact on menopause. 'General awareness wellbeing programmes have proved to be a good way of introducing menopause to a wider audience,' she adds.
Menopause should be visible in any diversity and inclusion programmes and health assessments. Conduct a review of practices, procedures and support currently on offer for menopausal women and colleagues. Existing women’s networks or interest groups can be positive places to initiate menopause discussions for all employees. Managers need help initiating a menopause conversation and supporting a colleague suffering.
So where should an organisation start? 'Firstly by understanding that it is more than just hot flushes, and secondly, by simply talking openly about it, making it visible, normalising it,' suggests Sarah.
Maybe we should be asking: 'Why are we not talking about menopause?'
Sarah is co-founder and director of Talking Menopause. To mark World Menopause Day on 18 October, Talking Menopause is offering a free webinar. Click here to register.