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Employers must take the menopause seriously 

Charlotte Burton-Barker

The menopause can have negative impacts for women in the workplace and organisations and employers need to start taking it seriously. The ageing workforce is a demographic trend that UK employers can no longer afford to ignore. Contributor Charlotte Burton-Barker, Learning Consultant – Adaptis Limited.

“A higher life expectancy, lower birth rates, an increasing retirement age and lack of retirement funds, means the workforce is getting older, rapidly. Older employees bring a wealth of experience, loyalty and reliability to an organisation, but employers must recognise that these employees have different needs to the generations below them.” Charlotte Burton-Barker, Learning Consultant at Adaptis Limited, which works worldwide and has its headquarters in London, explained: “It has become a priority for employers to support the needs of their older employees, ensuring their wellbeing, productivity and value to the organisation. Women in particular are remaining in the workforce far longer than ever before.”

Twenty years ago, less than 50% of women aged 50 – 64 were working. Today, around 70% of women in this age group are still in work. The Bureau of Labour Statistics predict that by 2024 the workforce will be made up of twice as many women aged over 55 than women aged between 16 and 24.

Charlotte added: “In today’s workforce we are beginning to see up to five generations of employees working together. Following the emphasis for gender balance there has been an upsurge in awareness and policies to support women through key stages of their lives such as pregnancy and motherhood, enabling them to work in a way that better suits their needs. 

“Menopause on the other hand remains neglected and often a taboo topic in the workplace, it is not always well provided for in culture, policies or training. Typically, the period of hormonal change caused by the menopause lasts between four and eight years and the average age for women to begin the menopause is 51. Given the aging workforce, understanding and supporting women through this stage of their lives has now become a priority for employers.

“The most commonly reported symptoms of the menopause include hot flushes, poor sleep and night sweats, reduced concentration, mood disturbance, fatigue and irritability. More psychological symptoms include a decrease in confidence, feelings of anxiety and/or depression.”

Research has shown that many women view disclosure of their menopause as threatening and embarrassing. A survey by the BBC found that around 70% of women did not inform their manager when they were experiencing menopausal symptoms.

Charlotte continued: “A report by the Government Equalities Office shows that absenteeism from the menopause is generating an annual cost of more than seven million pounds, a cost which would be significantly reduced through improved education and understanding amongst employers. Considering the negative impacts which the menopause can have for both women in the workplace and the organisation, as an employer it is essential to start taking the menopause seriously.  

“A positive first step in tackling this in the workplace is to create an open and common language around the menopause and its impact on women. Facilitating informal conversations around changes in health and more specifically the menopause is a good place for managers to start.

“Another key initiative in supporting women through menopause at work is formal training for managers. Training can help managers, who may otherwise feel uncomfortable discussing this ‘taboo’ topic, learn how best to approach talking to women at a menopausal age about their needs in a considerate and effective manner.

“Finally, it is important to consider that each case should be assessed on its own merit. Women have very different experiences of the menopause and will require different support and adjustments based on this. Therefore, having a standard set of ‘menopause rules’ will not be especially useful. Again, this highlights the importance of being able to have these open conversations around the menopause to get feedback and find out what is going to help each individual employee.”

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