Why menopause in the workplace ticks all the HR strategy boxes

By Deborah Garlick, Director of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace

The subject of menopause in the workplace is gathering traction and we’re delighted to see the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) launch their comprehensive guide.

But why do organisations need to get on board and, crucially, what does this mean for HR professionals?

Menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life, as her balance of hormones changes. The Government Report on Menopause established why all employers need to take menopause seriously.

There are 4.3m employed women aged 45-60, in fact menopausal women are the fastest-growing group of workers in the UK. The average age for menopause is 51 in the UK but symptoms can be much earlier than that. With women working for longer, menopause can get in the way of work and careers at a time when organisations need to retain its talent and have everyone performing at their best.

It’s far more than demographics. There have been employment tribunals won on the basis of menopausal symptoms. The onus of responsibility for looking after employees’ wellbeing and fostering a culture of inclusivity is clear. But there are compelling commercial reasons, too. These include higher retention rates, improved performance and boosted employee morale – while some employers even look upon it as part of their employee attraction strategy.

Whatever the driver to raising menopause awareness, education and support, it’s the right thing to do for inclusion, diversity and equality. And it’s something that both men and women need to know about.

What are the symptoms that affect women at work most?
Everyone recognises the stereotypical hot flushes but what the majority of people don’t realise is the range of menopausal symptoms. Last year saw the results of the biggest menopause at work survey with the Government Research Team, Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace and the TUC. It received nearly 5,400 responses.

Interestingly, fatigue and insomnia, difficulty focusing or concentrating, anxiety and worry, and memory recall were the main symptoms cited by women as affecting them most at work.

Women frequently tell us at our employee training sessions that they are clearer on how to handle physical symptoms but it’s the psychological ones that surprised them the most. Or that they do not know what to do about them.

The survey also told us that aspects of the work environment can actually make symptoms worse. Those cited included high temperature and humidity, poor ventilation, noise and no access to quiet or restful space, and stress.

What does this mean in terms of support?
The evidence speaks for itself. More women are working as they transition through perimenopause into post menopause. Three in four will experience symptoms, and one in four will be seriously affected by them.

This all adds up to a large proportion of our working population affected. Each woman experiences the menopause transition differently and support needs to be on a case by case basis. That said, often small changes, maybe even over a short period of time that can make a big difference. Line managers at our training sessions are often relieved to see the range of simple, practical reasonable adjustments. They are not onerous.

What do working menopausal women want?
What women tell us they want is almost universal. Research carried out by The University of Nottingham and King’s College London (4) asked this very question. They want their employers and managers to know what menopause is, the nature of its symptoms, understand the potential impact of the work environment on menopausal symptoms and provide support, if needed. They asked for managers to show respect, to listen and to take concerns seriously. Communication skills are essential.

What can organisations do?
Rewind three years and it was very rare to find any mention of menopause in policies and practices, let alone any specific guidance. Thankfully, through education and awareness, this is changing and organisations are introducing menopause policies or guidance to their support portfolio. These include Severn Trent, The University of Leicester, Network Rail, various Police Forces, NHS Sherwood Forest Hospitals and Next PLC, Carnival UK, many councils including Leicestershire County Council, amongst many more. Looking ahead, others are placing it at the forefront of their people strategies.

The key areas for an organisation to focus on to tick all the boxes and become menopause friendly are:
• Encouraging an environment of openness and transparency where everyone can talk about menopause.
• Raising awareness, understanding and education of the menopause.
• Create accessible, well-publicised policy or guidance documents and information for colleagues and line managers.
• Ensure employees feel comfortable talking to their line managers, and in turn that managers feel confident to have supportive conversations with employees. And both have access to occupational health if needed.
• Offer appropriate reasonable adjustments and support, bearing in mind that not all women experience menopause differently.
• Giving consideration to menopause related symptoms in the workplace environment e.g. facilities and uniforms.

What HR professionals can do...
HR plays a vital role in supporting menopause in the workplace. As HR professionals, you are a crucial part of the chain of support, leading the change itself, guiding line managers, or as a direct point of contact for women looking for clarification on policy and guidance.

It’s therefore essential that all HR personnel are fully trained in how to offer the most effective support.

Download the CIPD’s free guidance and resources on managing the menopause at work.

The taboo of menopause is gradually lifting and it is increasingly finding its way into conversations both in and out of the workplace. By fostering a culture of openness, awareness and inclusivity, forward-thinking employers will be supporting, motivating and retaining some of the most valuable members of their workforce.

It’s time we all talked about menopause and put the right awareness, education and support in place. It really is a win-win for all.

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