Despite almost 400,000 women starting the menopause each year, it remains a taboo in the workplace. Too many women still don’t feel supported or able to discuss their symptoms in work. This has led to many leaving the workforce altogether, with recent research showing that a staggering one million women could quit their jobs due to lack of support.
With almost 4 million women aged 45-55 in the workplace, the menopause has now become a key recruitment and retention issue for employers. Women in this age bracket can be at the peak of their career and experience - losing them from the workforce can have a serious impact on productivity, affecting both individual employers and the wider economy. They’re also likely to be eligible for senior management roles, meaning their exit from the workforce could lessen diversity at executive levels.
More needs to be done to support women going through the menopause. With World Menopause Day taking place on 18 October, what can employers do to support their people?
Keep it flexible
Although menopause symptoms last for an average of four years in the UK, some can experience symptoms for up to 12 years, so it’s important to be flexible and handle any absence from work sensitively.
Employers should consider making changes to help women continue to work such as flexible working, working from home and allowing time off for appointments. Small, regular periods of absence may be needed and it’s important to adapt policies and procedures to take this into account. It’s also important to consider performance issues which may be caused by menopause symptoms. Having an open conversation around performance and targets shows understanding, helping to set realistic, achievable goals given their current symptoms.
Employers should also consider workplace adjustments – are there changes that can be made to help women continue to work? The adjustments needed will vary, but they could be simple changes such as better access to ventilation, water and facilities.
Equipping line managers
Line managers are the first point of contact for their team and play an important role in their wellbeing. They should be trained to have conversations about the menopause and understand the support available through their organisation. They also need an understanding of the symptoms, how they can affect performance and their role in supporting members of their team.
Support needs will vary from person to person and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach, so it’s important to adapt support depending on the person. Some women might not want to discuss the issue with their line manager, so line managers should be equipped to offer a suitable alternative such as a member of the HR team, a wellbeing champion or mental health support service.
Right support at the right time
If there are signs that someone is struggling, or they’ve raised their symptoms as a problem, it’s important to address these issues early on. Having access to an early intervention service through a group protection policy can help. These services provide access to qualified professionals who can provide guidance to help support people in work and prevent work-related absence. Through an open conversation, the issues can often be addressed before the situation gets worse.
Many workplaces also provide access to online GP services and mental health support. Making sure these services are properly advertised to staff and recommended at the right moments is key to helping women get the support they need, when it’s needed.
Increasing awareness around the menopause is fundamental to normalising the topic, allowing people to talk openly and seek support when needed. Organisations should start including the menopause when talking about other key health and wellbeing issues, such as mental health. This can help to normalise the topic and encourage women to come forward for support when needed.
Internal webinars, educational material or in-person talks can give people a chance to learn about the menopause and bring the topic into mainstream understanding. This applies to all employees – not just women or those going through the menopause. In order to break the stigma, more people need to understand the menopause and its symptoms. This shouldn’t be seen as a ‘women’s issue’.
The menopause has been a taboo in the workplace for too long. Employers need to make sure their considering the wellbeing and needs of every employee, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because the business benefits are also clear. Employers who provide the right support are better placed to attract and retain staff, improve productivity, and increase diversity at senior levels in their organisation.
Dan Crook | Protection Sales Director