20% of employees experience menopause every year, yet it is still an often stigmatised and undiscussed stage of life. In menopause, women face symptoms such as irritability, poor sleep, and lack of concentration—and the majority of women go through this experience without support at work. The British Menopause Society found that 47% of those who had taken a day off due to menopause symptoms didn’t tell their employer the real reason behind their absence.
With the rate of women aged 55 and over in the workplace continuing to rise, it’s vital that organisations provide more support and build a more inclusive culture that understands and adapts to their needs. Read on to learn how employers can better support menopause in the workplace today and of the future.
Understanding menopause and its impact on people in the workplace
Menopause is a natural phase of life that affects anyone who has a period. It officially begins when a person has not had a period for 12 months, which usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. However, symptoms may start in their early 40s, during a phase called perimenopause. During this time, oestrogen levels drop and eggs gradually stop being released. This phase lasts four years on average.
Menopausal symptoms are both physical and emotional and can occur in the years before and after periods stop. They most commonly include:
- Mood swings
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Dry or oily skin
- Irregular periods
- Brain fog
- Headaches and migraines
- Loss of self-confidence
- Poor sleep
- Discomfort during sex
- Lack of libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Heart palpitations
- Joint aches and stiffness
- Hair loss or increase to facial hair
Understandably, these symptoms can have a serious impact on a person’s daily life and their career. According to the British Menopause Society, 45% of women felt that menopause negatively impacted their ability to carry out tasks.
Coping with symptoms such as headaches and mood swings is clearly difficult in itself, but the impact of menopause on cognitive function can have a direct result on work. Various studies show that women commonly complain about memory loss, finding it difficult to recall numbers and words as well as why they were engaging in a certain behaviour. This is only made worse by vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and sweats), which have also been linked to a greater likelihood of poorer work ability.
Aside from work performance, many people have their careers affected by the menopause, often permanently. One study found that 28% of women reduced their hours or went part-time as a result of menopausal symptoms, whilst 8% did not apply for a promotion.
The experience of long-term symptoms is also linked with mental health issues. Research has found that 53% of women suffered from depression and a further 50% from anxiety during menopause. This has been shown to directly impact a person’s ability to cope with work stress exacerbating menopausal symptoms.
The business case for menopause support at work
With many menopausal women physically and mentally struggling to cope in the workplace, menopause has become one of the biggest hidden costs to a company, contributing to high absenteeism, lower productivity and fewer women in the workplace.
It’s estimated that there are almost 6 million perimenopausal or menopausal women currently working in the UK. According to Bupa, almost one million women have resigned due to menopausal symptoms, many of whom are at the height of their career and in leadership positions. This causes businesses to spend up to 200% of an employee’s salary to replace them.
People who stay in their role and experience menopausal symptoms lose an average of 14 days of productivity. And those who require long-term absence from work are taking an average of 32 weeks leave—a catastrophic result on their career and their employers’ overall performance.
It’s clear that providing menopause support at work is a crucial strategy in reducing turnover rates, but it is also linked to an improvement in overall business performance: Gender diverse leadership teams are proven to outperform their peers by over 35%.
Legal requirements around menopause support at work in the UK
Whilst menopause isn’t specifically outlined under the Equality Act 2010, employers still have a legal responsibility to treat those going through the menopause equally and to not discriminate against them.
This includes not putting menopausal employees at a disadvantage or treating them less favourably because of their age (a characteristic closely associated with the menopause) or gender. In the case that menopause is considered a disability, reasonable adjustments must be made. This can include when menopause causes lapses of concentration or anxiety.
Implementing menopause support programs in the workplace
Whilst adhering to legal requirements is vital, it is not enough to truly support those with menopause at work. Building a culture that empowers menopausal employees to thrive in their careers is essential in becoming an inclusive, supportive working environment.
Employers must start by reducing stigma around menopause which affects women as well as trans people, intersex people and non-binary people. This comes from a lack of understanding in society and the workplace. Consider how you can raise company-wide awareness, and train HR leaders and managers to support menopausal employees whilst better understanding the specific challenges it poses.
For those experiencing symptoms or who need to attend medical appointments, flexibility can be a gamechanger. Adjustments to working hours and remote working is an often simple gesture that can significantly improve a menopausal employee’s quality of life. When virtual work isn’t an option, encourage employees to take breaks in a comfortable, private space and adjust the working environment to accommodate their symptoms including temperature and ventilation.
Many leading businesses are now adopting specialised menopause benefits to better support their employees. This includes virtual support from healthcare providers such as endocrinologists and mental health professionals who can fill gaps in care without the need for referrals and waitlists. Access to resources and education is also invaluable in helping employees to navigate this phase of life. 64% of women said better information in the workplace could help them to manage their symptoms. Access to clinically-vetted content and virtual classes can provide a trusted source of truth and a reliable method of employer-provided support.
Overcoming challenges around menopause support at work
Menopause is not widely discussed and can be a very sensitive issue for many people. Employers should be aware of this stigma when discussing menopause in the workplace and encouraging employees to use the support offered. Keep conversations confidential and consider any cultural barriers that may make it more difficult for some people to discuss.
Because of its sensitive nature and the stigma around menopause, it can also be challenging to secure leadership buy-in for menopause support. It’s therefore crucial to clearly communicate the rationale behind new policies and programs, and the positive business outcomes they will drive. Combine statistics such as the number of women in your workplace of menopausal age in line with current turnover and absenteeism rates to demonstrate possible ROI. Employers that implement menopause policies see reduced absenteeism, increased retention and lower overall healthcare costs.
When it comes to evaluating the success of menopause support programs, do so in a way that measures impact rather than what services have been provided. Maven’s Menopause Care program provides tailored, holistic care on an individual basis, considering the unique emotional and physical health aspects linked to the menopause.
How Maven supports your employees navigate menopause
The cost of ignoring menopause in the workplace is substantial. But by supporting employees during menopause, you can dramatically reduce the expense of absenteeism, replacing lost talent, and lower productivity. When executed well, menopause benefits can benefit both employees and the business.
Maven is the UK’s leading menopause benefits provider. Our Menopause & Ongoing Care solution is just one element of a complete digital family health platform for employers that provides inclusive, cost-effective care to women and families. Through 24/7 virtual access to specialised care teams, clinically-approved education and 1:1 mental health support, you can empower your midlife workforce. To learn more, contact us today.
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