This guest blog focuses on supporting menopausal women at work. In particular, what can be done differently to change the current status quo. This article also applies to anyone who menstruates or has menstruated and could experience menopause.
Menopause isn’t generally a topic that’s widely talked about around boardroom tables or the water cooler. But it should be! According to a survey The Guardian conducted, over 1 million women in the UK may have to leave their jobs as employers don’t provide support during the menopause journey. Since menopause usually affects women in their late 40s and early 50s, it can mean that those eligible for senior management roles leave work at the peak of their careers. This has a knock-on effect not just on workplace productivity but on inclusivity and gender equality too. Of course, menopause can happen at any age dependent on genes, environment and/or illness. This is why talking about menopause is so vital.
Facts and figures about Menopausal Women at Work
In a survey of 2,000 women experiencing menopause symptoms: 63% said that their workplace had no policy in place to support them. Many say that second to having children, going through menopause was the next most significant life event to impact their careers. With pregnancy at least, there are maternity laws and benefits in place on the whole.
One-quarter of the women surveyed claimed to be unhappy and stressed in their jobs because of a lack of support. Up to 60% stated that their place of work hasn’t introduced menopause policies to make life easier. One of the respondents, who’s been on sick leave for 6 months, said that her joints are so painful that she struggles to move. She started feeling confused and unable to think clearly and experiences anxiety. However, she had to return to work because, if she didn’t, her salary would be halved. While her managers are sympathetic, they don’t offer any tangible support.
Another respondent has left three jobs in seven years because the employers simply weren’t equipped to help her cope with menopausal symptoms at work. She expressed how soul-destroying it is when you really want to continue to work, even though you feel as if you are a shadow of your former self.
Almost all the women surveyed said that their workplace didn’t have a space where they could speak openly about menopause. This intensified their feelings of distress and isolation.
The Stigma Around Menopause
Even in today’s information-driven world, menopause, like menstruation, is still very much a taboo subject. Women are expected to carry on regardless of the psychological, emotional and physical symptoms. Symptoms such as depression, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, poor concentration and headaches can appear quickly with no sign of abating. It’s essential that employees recognise, understand and empathise with women going through the change of life.
From a legal standpoint, employers have a responsibility to care for their employees and a duty to abide by the relevant employment health laws. Indeed this tribunal case from 2018 demonstrates that menopausal symptoms can come under the Equality Act 2010 as a disability.
Unfortunately, because of the stigma around menopause, many are loathe to disclose menopausal-related health issues to their managers. Often fearing that it could undermine their professional image.
Menopause strategies should be a part of the company’s wellness policy to help support longer working lives.
Barriers to Supporting Menopausal Women at Work
Approaching a taboo subject isn’t easy, but the more managers who do, the more staff will be able to speak about this.
Start by opening up the conversation and don’t suffer in silence. There’s no need to pretend everything is fine, especially on days when the symptoms are unmanageable. If you don’t feel that your workplace is providing appropriate support, you contact the British Menopause Society. You can arrange for a specialist to speak to and educate all staff members.
While you may not be able to control every symptom of your menopause, if you’re overburdened in the workplace, ask for help. Ignoring how you are feeling is likely to exacerbate your symptoms and make you feel worse. If things seem to be too much to bear, take a break, or speak to someone you trust. A change of scenery may provide temporary relief.
If you’re worried that your symptoms are affecting your work negatively, speak to your manager. It may seem daunting, especially if your manager may not see things from your perspective. But if you trust them, the chances are they will be receptive to your concerns and offer support.
Diane Danzebrink, the founder of Menopause Support, says women who are supported through the menopause are more likely to remain in the workplace. Thus being able to achieve their full potential. Plus, employers will retain valuable team members. Talking about what your are experience is one way to get the support you need.
How Do I Go About Having the Conversation?
- Book a meeting with your manager, explaining that you have something important to discuss. State your needs clearly and confidently, emphasising your need for support. You may wish to provide an example of your symptoms and the way they impact your work.
- If you have a Trade Union rep you may wish to discuss this with them in advance of a meeting to help you position the conversation.
- Consider the workplace adjustment you would find beneficial. For example, If you have hot flushes, request a fan for your desk or ask to sit next to a window. Do you feel more comfortable at home? If so, how could hybrid working benefit you?
- If your manager is unapproachable, speak to a colleague you trust, trade union rep, or an HR staff member who could potentially provide support. Not only is having the conversation with others a source of emotional support, but it’s also a great way to share advice, tips and strategies. You may learn new things about your health, body and ageing too.
Women over 50 years old represent the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. Yet despite this, one in four menopausal women don’t get the support they need at work. Not listening to women’s concerns around this issue can result in employees taking legal action. As mentioned previously, the Equality Act 2010 (UK) protects workers who are treated unfairly because of menopause and perimenopause.
Pushing For Change for Supporting Menopausal Women at Work
You can also ensure that your company’s existing wellbeing policy includes a section on menopause. Additionally, you may suggest to the HR department that the managers and the rest of the staff have training where they can learn more about how to offer support.
If no one else in the company is raising the issue of menopause, elect yourself as the person who drives initiatives and dialogue. This will ensure that menopause is regarded as a fact of life and a topic no one shies away from.
The Menopause conversation is one we all need to have, especially in the workplace. Supporting menopausal women is not a choice, but something that makes business sense.