Menopause at work – the real conversation

Look back three years and it was rare to find an organisation with a menopause policy.

Now many have policies, guides and information in place, including Severn Trent, University of Leicester, Network Rail, NHS Sherwood Forest Hospitals, NHS Foundation Trust, and Carnival UK, among many others.

Plus a huge number of organisations are placing it at the forefront of their people strategies for 2019 and 2020.

Normalising the conversation around menopause was the aim at our first Menopause Conference which was underway in 2016. Helping organisations make small changes to create big differences was the plan. Building awareness, understanding, support and confidence in the workplace was the benefit.

Three years on, the dedication of forward-thinking organisations and our team we are changing lives for the better.

The scale of the issue

We could quote lots of statistics and surveys, but just taking a few, the situation starts to reveal itself:

  • Menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce.
  • The average age for a woman to go through menopause is 51. It can be earlier than this, naturally or due to surgery or illness. And symptoms may start years before menopause, during the perimenopause phase.
  • According to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM), nearly 8 out of 10 of menopausal women are in work.
  • 3 out of 4 women experience symptoms, 1 in 4 could experience serious symptoms.
  • One in three of the workforce is now over 50, and retirement ages are now 68.
  • There have already been successful employment tribunals against employers.

Menopause has always been around but what’s very different is the context of life today, making it urgent and important on every organisations priority list.

What do working menopausal women want?

Research carried out by The University of Nottingham and King’s College London asked this very question. The results were almost universal. Women want their employers and managers to know what menopause is, the nature of its symptoms, and understand the potential impact of the work environment on menopausal symptoms.

It’s also important for employers to understand how symptoms could affect women at work.  Everyone recognises hot flushes as a symptom of menopause, but our survey results suggest that fatigue, difficulty focusing or concentrating, anxiety and worry, and insomnia were the symptoms women said affected them most at work.

Most women also mentioned the physical work environment could make a dramatic improvement in women’s experience at work.

So what can employers can do?

Firstly, they can learn the facts about menopause and how it can affect a woman at work.

Key areas an organisation can focus on to become menopause friendly are:

  • Make it clear how your organisation supports menopausal women at work by introducing a policy or guidance document.
  • Create an environment where menopause can be talked about openly, without embarrassment.
  • Provide training for line managers and support teams.
  • Provide access to occupational health and employee assistance programmes.
  • If your colleagues wear uniform, can they be adapted for temperature control or extra garments ordered.
  • Review the facilities in your workplace e.g. access to cold drinking water and washroom facilities.

What lies ahead?

New emphasis has been supported by findings from the biggest-ever menopause at work survey in 2018. Run by the Government Research Team, Henpicked: Menopause in the workplace and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it received almost 5,400 responses.

Reassuringly, around 10% of these said their workplace now had menopause information in place. Good progress, but there is still a long way to go.

During the 12 month period from 1st December 2018 to 30 Nov 2019 Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace will have hosted eight Menopause at Work Conferences, spoken at many others and by doing so reached 1,000 organisations.

The number of men & women we will have reached with life-changing information on menopause will be close to 1 million.

Although it’s clear that some great progress has been made, and heartening to see so many organisations with support in place, there is still work to be done to break the menopause taboo.

Menopause isn’t a women’s issue. It’s time we all talked about it.

Further reading:

May 2012 – Dismissal without taking account of menopause symptoms – discriminatory and unfair

June 2017 – Menopause Transition: effects on women’s economic participation

October 2017 – People Management – Severn Trent Case Studies

June 2018 – Carnival UK hosts menopause awareness sessions as part of women’s health month

June 2018 – Case study: University of Leicester

January 2019 – Menopause and the workplace

April 2019 – Menopause: the ultimate taboo

July 2019 – Improving menopause support for staff at Sherwood Forest Hospital Foundation Trust