Guest blog by Deborah Garlick
Menopause is nothing new. Indeed, it’s a natural part of a woman’s life as she transitions from one phase to the next and her balance of hormones changes. But what is new – thankfully – is the increasing focus that many employers are placing on menopause in the workplace awareness and support.
This is, in part, thanks to compelling research into the impact menopausal symptoms can have on women in the workplace. The Faculty of Occupational Medicine’s own practical guidance was published in 2016, offering comprehensive insights to employers on how to improve workplace environments for menopausal women. Meanwhile, a research team from the University of Leicester published research for the Government Equalities Office on the impact of menopause on a woman’s employment – and vice versa.
This work established that menopausal women are by far the fastest-growing group of workers in the British economy. It stands to reason, therefore, that forward-thinking employers want to offer the right support to this particular demographic.
What is menopause?
The definition of menopause is when a woman has had no periods for 12 months. The average age for menopause is 51, and that’s when symptoms can start, in a time called perimenopause. These symptoms affect all women differently: some sail through menopause while others can really struggle.
Why do women need support?
Not all do. But the evidence is powerful. For any organisation that cares about its employees’ wellbeing and fosters an inclusive culture, providing the right support makes sense for commercial reasons, too. These include higher retention rates, improved performance and boosted employee morale – while some employers even look upon it as part of their attraction strategy.
In fact, many initiatives employers are putting in place now are probably long overdue. Look back three years and it was rare to find an organisation with a menopause policy. Now many have them in place, including Severn Trent, The University of Leicester, Network Rail, NHS Sherwood Forest Hospitals Trust, and Carnival UK, amongst many others. Others are placing it at the forefront of their people strategies for 2019 and 2020.
This new emphasis has been supported by findings from the biggest-ever menopause at work survey. Run by the Government Research Team, Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace and the TUC, it received over 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.
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 the survey results suggest that fatigue, difficulty focusing or concentrating, anxiety and worry, and insomnia were also symptoms which negatively impacted women in the workplace.
Most women also mentioned the physical work environment. Better awareness here could lead to improved reasonable adjustments.
What employers can do...
Firstly, they can learn more about what menopause is and how it can affect a woman at work.
Occupational health plays a key role in supporting menopause in the workplace. As employers begin (and continue) to provide training and support in this area, policies and guidance may suggest referrals to occupational health as part of the process. It is essential, therefore, that all occupational health professionals are fully trained in how to offer the most effective support.
Dr Richard Peters, Chief Medical Officer at Network Rail
"Organisations must not forget the impact these symptoms and associated co-morbidities can have on productivity, wellbeing and most importantly safety. It is important that all Occupational Health Clinicians, Managers and Staff are educated on this topic, understand the importance of reasonable adjustments and help to break the associated stigma around menopause. This will help organisations be more diverse, inclusive and supportive."
"Menopausal symptoms can have a significant impact on attendance and performance in the workplace, with some women being misdiagnosed as experiencing mental ill health or other conditions, and the impact on their work can be wrongly identified as a performance issue. Occupational health can support women by raising awareness of the symptoms of menopause. Equally there will be women who present who are unaware that the symptoms they are having are related to the menopause and this is an opportunity to encourage them to seek support from their GP and discuss their treatment options.
Managers can lack confidence and knowledge about the menopause and how they can support women at work, and as such occupational health can be instrumental in raising awareness and educating managers. Supporting menopausal women properly will potentially reduce absenteeism, and prevent women from leaving their employment as a means of managing the impact of it on their health."
Employers must also provide the right training for all line managers to feel confident in talking about menopause. Interestingly, FOM research from 2016 found that the majority of women are unwilling to disclose menopause-related health problems to line managers, many of whom were men or younger than them. However, the 2018 survey found that almost a quarter of respondents disclosed to a line manager. Again reassuringly, the majority of these were emotionally supportive and understanding, but some were not well informed or did not know how to support.
Ultimately, ensuring menopause is talked about openly is essential. This can be underpinned and driven by a good communications plan, which is then effectively cascaded throughout the company.
Many organisations have already begun their journey with great results and feedback. Of course, not every organisation is the same but there are some great case studies to learn from and think about what would work best in your business.
Author: Deborah Garlick, Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace