Menopause in the workplace awareness and education is a win-win situation
How do we raise menopause awareness in the workplace?
Speaking up about menopausal symptoms at work doesn’t come easy to many women – it can feel deeply personal and, combined with a fear of losing their job if their performance is affected, a lot of women end up keeping silent and soldiering on.
Thankfully, some employers are waking up to the fact that they can’t just ignore women in the workplace affected by menopausal symptoms – with women going through menopause at an average age of 51 and working until they are in their late 60s, it stands to reason a large proportion of the workforce are potentially affected by menopause at work. Organisations like Severn Trent, University of Leicester, E.ON taking the lead and various Police Forces across the UK.
This can then undermine performance – hot flushes, anxiety, trouble sleeping, loss of confidence, headaches, low mood and poor memory can all play their part. And this is where it’s essential that women feel able to raise these symptoms and work with their line managers to discover how they can be supported.
While organisations are increasingly getting on board, there is still work to be done. There are a number of ways to approach raising awareness of menopause in the workplace – and in the wider community:
This is going back to grass-roots level, but only by turning menopause into a natural topic of conversation can we transform conversations in the workplace. Menopause is rarely mentioned at school, and – while it might not need to be dwelt upon – educating people at a young age as to what it actually means is a good place to start. This means helping others understand what going through menopause really means, not just to aid women’s understanding but for us to know how it feels for our mothers, our partners, our friends. The Faculty of Occupational Medicine have already published guidelines.
Improved education for our GPs would also go a long way to ‘normalising’ menopause – by definition these doctors work as generalists, but as menopause affects 50% of the population this could be considered a general issue.
One of the big reasons women don’t like to talk about menopause at work is that they’re afraid they will jeopardise – or even lose – their job. This is where managers need to engage with all aspects of menopause, undertaking the right training and education to learn how to manage menopause in the workplace. The most forward-thinking organisations will look at introducing policies, awareness sessions for both employees and managers, and training line managers on how to have the right conversations to offer the relevant support. Most organisations would now not tolerate any discrimination at work due to maternity, and it’s time menopause was given the same level of understanding.
As any woman suffering from symptoms knows only too well, menopause isn’t just something that comes and goes. It is a process, a transition, and something that many women will live with for years. While workplace adjustments may be transient to manage certain symptoms for short durations, others will need to be in place for longer – or women may need different adjustments at different times during their menopause journey to help manage an array of symptoms.
There have been anecdotal cases of women being told to ‘improve their attitude’ or they would be sacked. Shocking treatment of women as they are struggling at work and in need of support. But even the most well-intentioned employer doesn’t always get it right every time. If a woman feels she is being discriminated at work due to menopause symptoms, there should be a clear process for her to follow – even in organisations without a menopause policy. Menopause symptoms are already covered by The Equality Act 2010. This could mean speaking to her union, or following the standard discrimination grievance process.
This means for both the organisation and its employees. Not addressing menopause in the workplace is ultimately bad for the bottom line as outlined by the Government Report on Menopause, this ground-breaking research
highlighted that organisations not taking account of menopause in the workplace is costing the UK economy millions every year.
Employers are losing valuable members of staff who have served them well, possibly for many years, and women are losing jobs or careers they have dedicated their lives to. Organisations need to consider the right approach for their workplace, which could include introducing their own menopause policy, offering reasonable adjustments, or introducing a support system so if a woman is struggling she has a clear pathway to follow. Essentially, it’s about creating a transparent and open environment in which nobody feels embarrassed talking about menopause.
Awareness is growing, thankfully, and hopefully will continue to do so as organisations wake up to the fact they need to be supporting their workforce. But what to do with the awareness? There’s little point an organisation or a leader simply understanding menopause, or realising that it exists. It’s about transforming this awareness into positive action, constantly evolving and evaluating thinking to make sure menopause is acknowledged, supported and effectively managed… in every organisation.
Interview on BBC Woman’s Hour with Ruth Devlin, Deborah Garlick and Diane Danzebrink discussing menopause in the workplace.