How to create a menopause-friendly workplace

Jane Ordaz, founder of the Global Menopause Community, examines how employers can best support menopause in the workplace and create a menopause-friendly organisation through awareness, training, and a menopause policy. She believes the evidence shows that understanding the effects of health inequalities and cultural nuance is vital to developing a truly inclusive programme of support.

The menopause affects the majority of women and those who have a menstrual cycle, as well as their partners and families. The number of women of menopausal age (45-55+) currently at work in the UK is a considerable proportion of the workforce, estimated at 3.5 million by the TUC. And in the USA, research into the impact of menopause on women’s health, by the National Institute on Aging, estimates that more than 1 million women are experiencing menopause at work every year.

With three out of five women experiencing menopause saying it has a negative impact on them at work, employers will want to take note. They have a duty of care to all their employees but, as a survey has found, a staggering 90% of women said their workplace offered no menopause help at all. Recent research has reported that one in four working women have considered quitting their jobs as a direct result of their menopausal symptoms.

With such low awareness of how to support employees with menopausal symptoms, clearly many women will not get the adequate support they need. So what can businesses and organisations do to create more menopause-friendly workplaces?


Menopause at work: The state of play

Back in July 2022, an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) published its Concluding Report on the impact of menopause.

The report made a series of ground-breaking recommendations, including piloting a workplace menopause leave policy in England, as well as making menopause a protected characteristic. This would have potentially given menopause the same protections as age, sex, race, and disability.

The committee also recognised that those from minority backgrounds, such as ethnic groups and the LGBT+ community, faced specific barriers. Further, as part of any future menopause policy-making, it stated that the Government must ensure accurate representation of all minority groups.

Despite the findings of the report, the Government decided to reject the committee’s recommendations, disappointing many.

But does this mean that all the work done to raise awareness of menopause in the workplace with employers and employees has come to nothing?

The APPG report states that both Government and employers need to drive forward change. The committee acknowledges that menopause considerations must be woven into all health and workplace policymaking that pertains to women if a positive change in understanding and support is going to be successful.

So businesses will need to pick up the baton here even though the Government has appeared to turn its back on the recommendations in the APPG Concluding Report.

Why organisations should care: How menopause affects the bottom line

By the time women reach menopause, many may be at the peak of their careers, and hold a wealth of knowledge and experience to share across an organisation or place of work. Once through the transition, many women report a renewed sense of energy and self-confidence.

However, due to a lack of awareness and support at the time of menopause, women with considerable talent, knowledge, and experience are leaving the workforce, and this is expensive. The financial cost of replacing an employee is estimated to be between six- and nine-month’s worth of an employee’s full-time salary.

In addition, if businesses are serious about addressing the gender pay gap, it’s impossible to ignore the impact that menopause can have on career progression and business talent pipelines. Not to mention the longer-term implications on a woman’s economic health, and in particular pension benefits.

The APPG on Menopause estimates there are currently around 4.5 million women aged 50–64 in employment (94). Additional research by The Forth Study found almost a third of working women in the core ‘menopause age’ – aged 50+ – are having to reluctantly take time out of the working week to alleviate menopausal symptoms. Across the year this mounts up to a loss of over 14 million working days, providing a clear imperative for organisations to provide support at this crucial time to prevent the loss of knowledge, talent, and productivity.

What are the barriers to a menopause-friendly workplace?

So what are the most common issues that are facing employers and leading to a failure to adequately support employees who are experiencing the challenging symptoms of menopause at work?

1. No budget for a menopause policy

When companies plan their cost allocations for their female employees, many only consider policies for maternity. Menopause is another major life stage in a woman’s reproductive life, yet it is often overlooked. A study of over 1,400 women by the CIPD (led by YouGov) found that menopause workplace guidelines are regularly not accounted for within businesses.


2. Staff fear negative manager reaction

A recent survey of 4,000 women by the Fawcett Society on menopause, found that only 22% of women and trans men currently experiencing menopause disclosed this at work.

Half of those responding said it made them less likely to go for a promotion. Eight out of ten women reported that their employer hadn’t shared information or created a supportive dialogue on menopause. It’s therefore unsurprising that women often feel embarrassed and ashamed to admit the real issues and reasons for absence to their managers.

The same survey reports that 23% of key worker women say that their uniforms have become uncomfortable when experiencing menopausal symptoms.

3. An environment of stigma

Menopause is often referred to with a negative rhetoric, which can only increase this environment of shame and stigma. For example, in 2018, the Deputy Head of the Bank of England reported that the UK economy was ‘entering a menopausal phase’, meaning it was past its best in terms of productivity.

These negative attitudes towards menopause in general, increase the likelihood organisations will ignore the needs of women experiencing menopause in the workplace.

4. Lack of menopause awareness

Without awareness at all levels and a clear menopause policy, women are often left to contend with their own personal mix of psychological and physical challenges. These affect sleep, concentration, mood, loss of confidence, and anxiety levels, along with the better-known hot flushes and night sweats:

65% said they were less able to concentrate 58% said they experience more stress 52% said they felt less patient with clients and colleagues

More shockingly, suicide figures from the Samaritans show that the age group for women with the highest suicide rate per 100,000 in the UK is 50-54 – the same as the average age of menopause (51).

Whether this is a coincidence or a consequence, it is certainly tough to go through menopause in silence, and even tougher to be working in an environment with little or no support.

The Fawcett Society survey suggests that women are not only let down by their employers but also by their healthcare providers. Almost half of the respondents with menopausal symptoms hadn’t spoken to their GPs. Of those who had, 31% said they had taken many appointments before they were offered treatments such as HRT.


How to create a menopause-friendly workplace

It’s clear that as more employees go through menopause during their working lives, it is vital that employers and managers encourage conversations to ensure they get the right support. If you are at the beginning of this journey, you can begin by:

Starting the conversation, for example, running a ‘lunch and learn’ introduction session to menopause for all staff Asking employees with symptoms what additional discussion groups and safe spaces they would like based on their specific identities, whether this is race, sexuality, disability, class, or any other grouping Making sure you are supporting all employees – no matter their circumstance whether in the office, at home, or on the road (such as care assistants, drivers, etc.) Thinking creatively about your sector – is there anything specific that you can do to provide support? Join the Menopause Workplace Pledge

However, some of the most impactful change can come through menopause awareness training and implementing a menopause policy.

Menopause awareness training

Menopause awareness should extend to all members of staff, as this allows for deeper understanding, support, and compassion between colleagues. It also helps to foster an empathetic culture that addresses stigmatised attitudes toward menopause.

It’s particularly important to train managers at all levels. Practical sessions and workshops can encourage managers to have those much-needed conversations and to apply policy and procedure correctly.

Whilst menopause awareness training and policies can go a long way to making significant improvements in the workplace, a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be applied to a diverse group experiencing peri-menopause and menopause symptoms. It’s important to take an intersectional approach.

Listen to the EW Group’s podcast for more on how leaders need to understand the health inequalities and cultural nuances that mean women from different groups (whether race, religion, disability, LGBT+, class, or any other identity) will experience and receive support for menopause symptoms very differently.

Menopause policies

Creating and implementing specific workplace menopause policies to provide the flexibility needed for employees to manage symptoms without fear of reprisal is crucial. Menopause has a place amongst the raft of well-being policies and procedures that many businesses have in place already, such as mental health awareness and support, stress management, and building resilience.

It is also important that employers find ways to support their female, trans, and non-binary employees during this time. Help to reduce the stigma by educating managers about the symptoms and possible effects that menopause can have, including the impact of additional inequalities.

Menopause policies in the workplace may be as simple as:

Considering flexible working models, such as hybrid working and allowing time off for appointments Ensuring uniforms are comfortable and making reasonable adaptations Offering obligatory comfort breaks Reviewing workplace temperature and providing ventilation Supplying guidelines for where women can source specific healthcare information Continuously facilitating a supportive and open dialogue Reviewing current policies (performance and well-being policies for example) and asking for feedback Recording menopause days off separately from other absences (sick leave policy/procedure) Awareness-raising activities such as menopause well-being activities Ensuring staff have access to information, resources, and helpful providers Checking that your workplace insurance includes menopause Appointing and training workplace ambassadors, and including them in performance discussions

Menopause at work: next steps

EW Group provides a 90-minute menopause training course that will define key terms and concepts and help attendees to understand the legal framework, setting out how we should work with colleagues.​ It will address how a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach cannot be applied to a diverse group of employees who are experiencing peri-menopause and menopause symptoms. And concludes with what constitutes appropriate and inclusive behaviours in the workplace, as well as recognising micro-messages and their impact. ​

We can also work with you to develop your own bespoke menopause training programme and menopause policy. For more information contact our experienced team.

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