Menopause and the Workplace
The menopause affects 51% of the population and is increasingly under the spotlight for the range of adverse effects it can have on women going through it. The menopause age range can be between 40-55 years old (average 51) and this age bracket makes up a large percentage of the UK workforce. According to NHS Employers reports there are 3.5 million women over 50 in the workplace in the UK and women make up 47% of the workforce according to the 2017 Government Women’s Transition Report
The effects of the menopause, which every woman will go through at some point, can severely impact on quality of life. Anxiety, depression, mood swings, hot flushes, sweats and insomnia are just some of the symptoms that can take hold. There are many physical and mental signs associated with this transition period in women’s lives and it can for some, be a difficult, stressful period which can last for years.
Menopause and Employment
The age range of women impacted by the menopause can see women in senior roles be grasped by anxiety, depression and confidence issues which can see them struggling and either resigning from their roles or becoming increasing sick or unable to cope. According to the well being of women study 900,000 UK women resigned from their job as a result of menopause.
The physical effects can also lead to increased self-awareness and discomfort whilst at work. Many women feel embarrassed to speak about the effects that it can have on them and the negative impact it can have on their day to day lives. Many of us fear discussing personal issues with our managers, but discussing something so sensitive and potentially that will lead to maybe misunderstanding or it being dismissed as unimportant can be demoralising and stressful. As we read one in four are leaving their roles as a consequence, which impacts the employer, the employee and the productivity of the work force. However, it’s a topic not openly discussed and may employers are left unaware of the reasons, many which may of wanted to help if given the opportunity. We need to stop this remaining a taboo topic.
Equality Act 2010
Menopause is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 but an employee who is put at a disadvantage because of their menopause symptoms could feel discriminated against and potentially cite, for example, age discrimination. Statistics from employment tribunals show that there has been an increase in claims bought by employees referencing the menopause. Cases have risen from 5 in 2018, 6 in 2019 , 16 in 2020 to 10 in the first 6 months of 2021. Whilst still very small numbers, we are seeing more discussions and public articles and talks on this subject. Removing the mystery and awkwardness discussing so women can discuss and admit the medical, physical and emotional symptoms around this will , it is believed, free many employees currently suffering.
Has the Law gone far enough?
The Government is currently looking at whether enough is being done to address these issues in the workplace . On 23 July 2021, the Women and Equalities Committee launched a new inquiry seeking to understand whether current legislation goes far enough to support women experiencing the menopause at work. This led to an enquiry into current legislation and whether this protects employees from discrimination in the workplace associated with the menopause and considered what more the UK Government could do to go further.
Changes: What can Employers do?
Employers seeking to protect the health and wellbeing of their staff are already taking steps to address this within their organisations. There is a slow recognition now that the mental health impact can be detrimental and the physical effects can create discomfort. As this becomes more prominently discussed, employers are understanding it is affecting their workforce and their productivity and it’s not something they can simply ignore. Working environments in which these can be discussed and acknowledged are key to retaining staff, avoiding claims and resignations, meaning prolonged productivity and possibly more committed and loyal staff.
Guide as to what the employer should be doing include:
- Updated Employment Policies
Proactive steps such as Menopause Policies being added to workplace policies are highly encouraged. The policies can make adjustments for the employee which will help them with coping with their difficult symptoms and feel comfortable in raising them with managers. Transparent and available workplace policies set a precedent on how staff and employers can and should operate and treat each other; offers clear guidance and support and clarity. This should be accompanied by clear sick pay policies and procedures, mental health and well-being policies.
- Reasonable Adjustments
An employer may not realise it can take just small adjustments, such as desk fans, water coolers, wellbeing mentors amongst staff and flexible working to make all the difference and retain senior staff it’s trained, nurtured and wants to retain. These small changes can be made to make the transition period and the mental and physical effects bearable for the team, but only if they are understood and openly recognised.
Training for managers to understand the impact of the menopause on staff and the issues that it can present is helpful and shows a clear understanding of the challenges that employees can face during this period. An open-door policy and people trained to understand the symptoms, with a clear avenue to talk to someone offering reassurance of confidentiality and protection are essential. Employers engaging with these small changes are more likely to maintain employees, especially of this age range who will have workplace and life experience that benefit their roles, the employer and new generations entering the workforce, so as such is harder to replace.
Employers could provide information or links or literature on how staff can get the support they need. This will include external sources and government sites, but maybe encourage informal internal support with managers or other employees
The Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Noakes MP has been quoted as saying that excluding menopausal women from the workplace is detrimental to our economy, our society and our place on the world stage.
A change of perception and a willingness to include a Menopause Policy will undoubtedly help not only the employee but the employer. Small adjustments to take account of the adverse effects on employees can be the difference between a menopausal woman staying or leaving her role. Overall, acknowledging the importance of wellbeing and protecting that in the workplace will have positive results. Employers do not have to incur large costs to address this – review of its policies; some bolt-on training; compassion and understanding and clear and open dialogues with its employees.
Why should you as an employer act?
By supporting your employees through the menopause, your company will surely benefit from increased productivity and commitment, you will have reduced sickness absence and employee turnover, saving recruitment & re-training costs.
This will also prevent resignations and enhance women in more senior roles and career progression, creating a company proud to promote and thrive in diversity. This will close the gender gap and gender pay gap and secure experience and business responsibility
Avoiding discrimination or claims avoids business distraction and addressing legal action and associated costs.
Nurturing and promoting what would be an age- and gender-inclusive workplace will help you not only retain but attract experience and specialists that men and women of all ages can bring.
It’s not even just a cliché about ‘happy staff ‘ according to University or Warwick 2021 report happy staff showed people to be 12% more productive if they were happy and are 4 times more likely to stay in their roles according to a further report in 2021.