Menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic, and almost 8 out of 10 menopausal women are currently in work, according to The Faculty of Occupational Medicine. Yet, despite their substantial contributions to the workforce, the menopause is still treated as a taboo subject and not enough is being done to deal with the issue of menopause discrimination.
In fact, 63% of women have highlighted that their employers have failed to implement policies to help support them going through this transition. Moreover, 1 in 10 have quit their jobs due to menopausal symptoms.
It will therefore come as no surprise that employment tribunals involving the menopause have increased by 44% year-on-year, with the menopause being mentioned 207 times in tribunals in 2021, up 75% on 2020.
The Women and Equalities Committee is already conducting an inquiry into menopause and the workplace. However, whilst this is a step in the right direction and the hope it that this will lead to concrete legislative changes to tackle menopause discrimination, such legislation will take time to come to fruition and raises a number of challenges when it comes to the question of enforcing and regulating adoption.
Tackling the current narrative
Everyone will experience the menopause differently, therefore, businesses should seriously consider the policies they have in place to ensure all employees are receiving the support and care they need.
Symptoms can impact confidence and can be extremely difficult to deal with on a physical and emotional level. Therefore, simply continuing to ignore the issue is not only detrimental to the health of women themselves, but to our economy and women’s’ wider place in the workforce.
Unfortunately, due to lack of general menopause awareness, women often don’t realise the symptoms they are experiencing are menopause related and therefore are not getting the help they need. In fact, some individuals can experience perimenopausal symptoms 10 years before the onset of actual menopause, which is around 45-55 years of age. Moreover, many women don’t realise that they are legally entitled to support in the workplace and are hesitant to disclose menopause-related health problems to line mangers – often out of a fear of being stigmatised.
Conversely, many employers are unaware of the vast responsibility that sits with them. The menopause is a health and wellbeing concern that falls under their duty of care to their employees and so it needs to be treated with the upmost sensitivity.
Addressing the menopause in the workplace
A crucial step to redirecting the current narrative is for companies to ensure that the menopause is present within their HR policies. This could be through focused menopause action plans and outlining supportive routes into menopause healthcare as standard.
From a practical perspective, there are also a number of considerations employees can make to alleviate some of the challenges menopausal women have to deal with in the workplace.
To start, if uniforms are required, make sure you are taking the concerns of your employees on board and are flexible to individual needs. For example, can thermally comfortable or breathable fabrics be used instead? This can also extend to providing optional layers and encouraging employees to remove particular aspects that may cause added discomfort.
Moreover, review workplace temperature and ventilation control policies. This can include providing desktop fans, strategically locating workstations away from heat sources and providing access to cold drinking water in all work environments. These may seem like small adjustments, however, they will make a considerable difference to improving individuals’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Most importantly, there needs to be a wider understanding around the symptoms and side-effects of the menopause amongst all employees – to create both a supportive working environment and to signpost individuals in the right direction to get the help they need. At the end of the day, the menopause is not just a gender issue. It can also have an impact on colleagues or those supporting someone going through it. As such, it should be considered as an organisational and not a personal issue.
Looking ahead to support staff retention
With symptoms often being dismissed by employers, the lack of knowledge around the menopause in the workplace is a key concern and could have potential knock-on effects. For example, researchers have estimated that 1 million women in the UK could leave their jobs this year as a result of employers failing to provide appropriate menopause support.
Whilst it is great that conversations are starting to open up, the menopause is still shrouded in stigma and some women are struggling in the workplace as a result. Now, we need to address this misplaced rhetoric and make sure menopausal women receive the support they deserve.