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Embracing change: Navigating menopause in the workplace

Discover how employers can support women through menopause in the workplace, fostering inclusivity and employee wellbeing. Gain insights into practical steps, from flexible work arrangements to awareness programs, to create a menopause-friendly workplace culture

As offices and workplaces continue to evolve, and strive to foster inclusivity and employee wellbeing, the need to support men and women in the workplace is of paramount importance.

One crucial aspect that often is overlooked in a woman’s life is menopause and the right support. The menopause transition is a natural phase in a woman’s life that brings physical and emotional changes, and its impact on the workplace is significant. It is estimated that around 13 million people are currently peri or menopausal in the UK – the equivalent of a third of the entire UK female population.

Discussions across the UK about menopause, its symptoms, and the support we can offer women during this phase are evolving in a positive direction – and this is serving as a catalyst for changed workplace behaviour.

Menopause, an inevitable phase of aging, brings about unique challenges that extend beyond personal and familial spheres. Acknowledging the impact of these transitions on employees is crucial for fostering a workplace that values wellbeing. In the United Kingdom, where workforce demographics are evolving, employers have an opportunity to tap into valuable resources and offer meaningful support to individuals experiencing menopause and andropause.

New guidance on menopause in the workplace

As of recent statistics, menopause continues to affect a significant proportion of the female workforce in the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around 3.5 million women aged 50 and over are currently employed in the UK. This demographic shift highlights the importance of addressing menopause-related challenges in the workplace.

The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission has sought to clarify employers’ responsibilities regarding women suffering from debilitating menopausal symptoms. On 22 February 2024, the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission published new guidance on menopause in the workplace and clarified employers’ legal obligations to women who are going through the menopause and experiencing symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, hot flashes and brain fog. The guidance states that the symptoms of menopause can be considered a disability under the Equality Act if they have a “long-term and substantial impact” on a woman’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. It also states that they should be protected from discrimination on grounds of age and sex.

Menopause in the workplace has continued to be a ‘hot topic’, with many larger employers introducing policies, champions, support networks and resources. However, employers may not be fully aware of the wealth of resources and support available to navigate this often-neglected aspect of women’s health.

While conversations around menopause have shifted, within the workplace women often can feel uncomfortable and embarrassed disclosing their menopausal status, fearing being stigmatized for openly discussing or acknowledging this. This fear can, in part, stem from the association with ageing and unfairly perceived diminished productivity. As a result, individuals may hesitate to disclose their menopausal status in the workplace, concerned that they will be met with judgement or even – in worst cases – discrimination.

Although menopause is not explicitly classified as a workplace hazard under health and safety legislation, we must recognize the significant impact its symptoms can have on individuals’ well-being and performance. Symptoms like cognitive challenges – often referred to as “brain fog”-, memory lapses, fatigue, stress, anxiety, hot flashes, and disruptions in menstrual cycles can affect an individual’s ability to function effectively and safely on the job, without necessary support.

The most reported challenges that menopausal women report at work include weaker concentration, exhaustion, poor memory, feeling low and lowered confidence. An additional worrying trend we have seen is hot flashes at work being linked to women having a higher intention to leave the workforce – this highlights the impact of menopausal symptoms on career trajectories for females, and workplace retention rates.

A study conducted by the British Menopause Society surveyed 1,000 adults in the UK, revealing striking statistics regarding the impact of menopausal symptoms on workplace dynamics. 45% of women reported that menopausal symptoms had a detrimental effect on their ability to perform at work. Furthermore, nearly half of the respondents, constituting 47%, admitted that when they needed to take a day off work due to menopausal symptoms, they would refrain from disclosing the true reason to their employer. These statistics underscore the urgent need for increased awareness and support surrounding menopause in the workplace.

Employer Resources: More Than Meets the Eye –  Practical Steps to Create a Menopause-Friendly Workplace

Addressing these challenges through workplace policies, flexibility, and awareness initiatives is imperative in fostering an environment where menopausal women feel valued, supported, and able to thrive professionally despite the challenges posed by this phase of life. For many, the symptoms associated with menopause can be debilitating and have an impact on daily life – it’s of the utmost importance that those requiring support in the workplace feel empowered to seek assistance.

For those in managerial and leadership roles, it is especially important to grasp the potential effects of menopause on employees and their wellbeing and job performance. Unfortunately, there has been a notable lack of widespread awareness and comprehension regarding how menopausal symptoms can significantly influence employees’ experiences in the workplace.

A further study showed that more than 80% of women in the UK found that their employer provided no support at work when dealing with menopausal symptoms.

A high-performing workforce starts with mental health:

  1. Education and Awareness: Creating awareness and a supportive environment starts with open dialogue. Employers can cultivate trust by supplying information on menopause. This can include workshops, seminars, or informational materials that help to destigmatize the topic and promote kindness. By normalizing conversations about menopause, workplaces can foster understanding and empathy among colleagues.
  2. Simple adjustments to the workplace environment: Flexible working arrangements: Offering flexible work arrangements can be a game-changer for women experiencing menopause symptoms. Flexibility can help manage the challenges associated with menopause, whether it’s adjusted working hours or remote work options.  This can include providing access to fans or air conditioning, offering ergonomic seating options, and ensuring suitable ventilation throughout the office.
  3. Counseling services are available: Many employers are unaware of the resources at their disposal to support employees through the menopause transition. Including access to external counseling services within Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), can provide a safe space for employees to discuss their experiences and seek professional guidance. These programs often offer counseling services, educational resources, and a platform for open communication about menopausal experiences. It can be particularly beneficial for managing the emotional aspects of the menopause transition.
  4. Wellbeing programmes: Including menopause-specific components in wellbeing programmes can address physical aspects of menopause. This may involve fitness classes, nutritional guidance, stress management techniques and mindfulness practices tailored to menopausal needs.
  5. Policy Review and Inclusion: Regularly reviewing workplace policies to ensure they are inclusive of menopause-related considerations is crucial. This may involve evaluating sick leave policies, accommodations for symptom management, and support for those undergoing medical treatments.

The Business Case for Menopause Support

Recognizing the impact of menopausal symptoms on workplace dynamics underscores the importance of implementing supportive, inclusive policies and accommodations to ensure the wellbeing and productivity of all employees – regardless of age or gender.

By acknowledging and addressing these concerns, organizations can cultivate a more positive work environment where individuals feel valued and empowered to navigate the challenges that come with all stages of life with confidence.

Beyond being a matter of social responsibility, creating a menopause policy in the workplace has clear benefits, from retaining talent to enhancing culture. Recognizing and supporting employees through this life stage can also positively impact a company’s reputation and brand image.

However, it’s important to consider the individual needs of employees and the practicalities of implementation. As with any policy, it should be developed in consultation with those it will affect and reviewed regularly to ensure it meets its objectives.

Empowering Employers, Supporting Employees

Employers possess more resources for menopause support than they may realize. By embracing this opportunity to create a menopause-friendly workplace, organizations not only demonstrate their commitment to employee wellbeing but also pave the way for a more inclusive and supportive work environment for women at every stage of their professional journey.

It’s time for employers to tap into these resources, break the silence around menopause, and lead the way in fostering workplaces that truly value the health and dignity of every employee.

 

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