Menopause in the Workplace; Why We Still Need To Keep Pushing

Menopause in the Workplace

The world has thankfully changed since I started talking about menopause in 2014! Back then, nobody wanted to mention the ‘M' word, it was misunderstood and avoided like the plague.

These days everyone is talking about it! From celebrities to royals, many women are now openly sharing their experience. And many organisations are finally realising they need to support this large and growing section of their workforce.

But not everyone is getting the support they need, so if you're still struggling in your workplace OR you are responsible for female employees in your organisation, listen up. I'm going to go through why you need to keep pushing this forward.

You can watch the video below or listen to the podcast (episode 115).

How big is the problem?

There are an estimated 5 million women aged 40-55 in the UK in the workplace, and about 80% of them will suffer some symptoms of menopause that can negatively impact on their performance and career potential.

According to Professor Jo Brewis, co-author Government Report on Menopause, ‘menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic’, which is highlighted by the Office of National Statistics. So this issue isn't going away.

Interesting research was published by Professor Amanda Griffiths et al from Nottingham University in 2013. They surveyed 900 women between 45-55 and the responses were that;

  • 40% thought their work was suffering
  • Only 25% had discussed it with their line manager
  • 53% had no control over their environment
  • 40% were unable to negotiate working hours

The study concluded;

“Appropriate support from employers is essential. It is likely to reduce the risk of stress, help maintain performance, enhance employee loyalty and facilitate continued participation in the workforce.”

In her 2015 report to the government titled ‘A new vision for older workers’, Dr Ros Altmann, CBE, commented that menopause is still largely ignored in workplace thinking, and that there is little support for women going through this phase of their lives.

One of her conclusions was;

‘if performance were affected by symptoms that could be attributed to a different medical condition, there would be far more acceptance and allowances made.”

In 2014, Nuffield Health undertook a survey of over 3000 women aged between 40-65. Here's what they found;

Over half said they were depressed, more than a third suffered anxiety, over 72% of female workers having symptoms said they felt unsupported at work, and 1 in 10 had considered leaving their job.

Fast forward to the Wellbeing of Women survey in 2016 where 1 in 4 women have considered leaving their workplace.

And almost half the women surveyed did not know their symptoms could be due to the menopause – citing that they were too young or too stressed.

And this is not only putting companies at risk of losing valuable experienced staff but they could be also at risk of an employment tribunal against them If they ignore or mismanage this issue.

How does menopause affect women’s performance?

Women at this time of their lives are more likely to;

1/ Take sick leave – women are more likely to stay off work if they’re feeling exhausted, they haven’t slept well, they have hot flushes or bad PMS, or they’re feeling anxious or depressed.  A survey conducted by the NUT in 2014 found that out of those who had taken sick leave due to menopausal symptoms, over 80% hadn’t disclosed the real reason.

2/ Suffer from stress – women can be less resilient to stress during peri-menopause. According to the Health & Safety Executive in 2015, midlife women report more work related stress than other groups.

3/ Suffer brain fog and memory loss that can severely hamper productivity, creativity and problem solving.

4/ Experience mood swings and irritability which can affect relationships at work. Someone who may have been very sociable can suddenly become isolated and not a great team player.

5/ Lose confidence –  formerly highly competent women can become insecure and lose confidence in their ability at work.

6/ Experience feelings of anxiety and/ or depression which can reduce motivation and make a woman want to withdraw.

7/ Suffer embarrassing hot flushes, which may result in her being much less likely to participate in meetings or discussions. And if a woman feels embarrassed or unable to ask for support then that can add to problems of comm and trust

What are the solutions to support menopause in the workplace?

Introducing menopause in the workplace policies and other best practice is straightforward and something all responsible companies should be considering.

In order to reduce the impact on both the female employee and her performance, there are 2 key areas that need to be addressed; Employee Education and Organisational Support.

Employee Education

Educating and empowering individuals with the knowledge they need about hormones and the menopause and giving them simple and practical tools so that they can regain control and thrive at both at work and in their personal lives.

This is what I've been doing for 8 years – talking to female and male employees about all aspects of hormone health including nutrition, stress, sleep, exercise, environment, supplements, and treatment options.

Organisational Support for Menopause in the Workplace

  • Understanding the impact of menopause on the organisation and raising awareness of the issues amongst line managers
  • Commitment from the top down to the support of female employees at this critical stage of their lives
  • Practical support to help women maximise their wellbeing and performance. This could include access to education, good nutrition options at work, encouraging movement, flexible working options, stress management at work (meditation, yoga etc), providing a support network to encourage open discussion, environmental control (temperature, ventilation, desk top fans, cold drinking water).

There is no ignoring this issue. Many women want to work well beyond their menopausal years, and they are such a valuable and vital resource not only for the economy but for society at large.

So if you're an employee and not getting the support you need at work, talk to your managers, start a support group, keep the pressure on to get more support in place.

If you're an employer needing to step up in this area, do get in touch. We offer talks, workshops and individual coaching around all aspects of the menopause. Contact us here.

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