There are now around 4.4 million women aged 50–64 in work and the vast majority of these will go through the menopause transition during their working lives. Although it is rarely discussed at work, the menopause is a natural stage of life that millions of women workers are either going through now or will experience in the future.
The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51.
What is the Menopause?
The menopause is when a woman stops having periods for 12 consecutive months.
Transition or ‘Peri-menopause’ is the period that leads to the menopause when many women may experience symptoms.
Around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before 40 years of age.
Often the menopause is brought on early by those who have undergone cancer treatment or surgery for example hysterectomy.
Why employers need to act now
Recent research[i] into the effects of menopause transition in the workplace found in some cases, women are choosing to leave their job rather than discuss the impact of menopause symptoms on their work and career plans. This has implications for those sectors with a higher proportion of female workers such as education, health and social care who already experience significant recruitment challenges. According to CIPD[ii] research ‘for every ten women experiencing menopausal symptoms, six report that it has a negative impact on their work’.
‘All employers should consider making provision and ensuring support for older women who are going through the menopause … too many older women are left to cope on their own, without support or understanding from colleagues or managers.’ Dr Ros Altmann CBE, 2015
Menopause and working life
Some women go through the menopause with little impact on their daily life. But others experience symptoms that can last for several years and have a negative impact on their performance and attendance at work. For many, menopause includes hot flushes, mood swings and sleep disturbance. A bad night’s sleep can affect concentration, for example, while heavy periods or hot flushes can be physically distressing and embarrassing.
Many women feel embarrassed by their symptoms and are reluctant to discuss with their employer what they are experiencing and the impact on their working life. Research has found women worry about a possible effect upon likelihood of being selected for redundancy, promotion or negative judgements being made about their capability at work.
And it’s not just an employee wellbeing issue to be managed. Menopause symptoms which have a substantial adverse effect on normal day to day activities may meet the legal definition of a disability under the Equality Act with obligations for employers to consider any reasonable adjustments.
good news is that with the right support and awareness from employers’ women
can continue to work, develop their careers and contribute in the work place.
The recently CIPD Let’s talk
menopause campaign is a step in the right direction.
Practical steps for employers
“Women do not want workplaces to manage their menopause. What they want is an enabling environment that supports them through the menopausal transition”Kathleen Riach, Associate Professor in Management & Gavin Jack, Professor, Monash University)
Not every woman experiences menopausal transition the same way and there is no one single solution for building more supportive workplace. Each organisation needs to consider what will work best for them based on size and occupational area.
Breaking the Silence
The more employees and line managers, both male and female, are aware of the menopause, its possible symptoms and impact on work the greater chance that women will feel able to talk about what’s happening to them and ask for the support they might need.
Signposting for more information with occupational health and external links is a good starting point. A dedicated policy may be helpful or including specific reference within existing well being policies. Building in ongoing communications as part of well being promotions helps maintain awareness. Some women have found informal support groups can also provide some respite for those who are too embarrassed to talk about their issues elsewhere.
Educating and training line managers is key to ensure that this doesn’t become a performance management issue. As with other wellbeing matters, employees need to feel confident that they can have an honest conversation without detriment to how others view their capabilities and capacities. Ensuring that managers are aware of the facts and what they can do to help is a key enabler of this.
Creating the right environment
The Faculty of Occupational Medicine’s (FOM) offers practical guidance on how to improve workplace environments.
- Review control of workplace temperature and ventilation and see how they might be adapted to meet the needs of individuals.
- Have a desktop fan in an office or locating a workstation near an opening window or away from a heat source.
- Consider flexible working hours or shift changes. If sleep is disturbed, later start times might be helpful.
An everyday conversation
By taking a positive approach that includes supporting menopause as part of a wider wellbeing strategy it’s hoped that talking about menopause becomes part of everyday work conversations.
Further information about the menopause
NICE Guidelines on Menopause: diagnosis and management
Faculty of Occupational Health Guidance on menopause and the workplace
Business in the Community Menopause: Managing Symptoms