Women are staying longer in the workforce than ever before. ONS figures in March revealed that the number of older women in work has increased by 51 per cent since 2010, when there were changes to the state pension age.
As women continue to stay in work longer than their predecessors, growing numbers are experiencing the menopause while still in employment. The menopause can have a big impact on wellbeing as well as productivity levels, so it can be beneficial for employers to focus on ways to support women in the workplace, during one of the most significant times of their life.
According to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) of the Royal College of Physicians, 8 out of 10 menopausal women are in work, 3 out of 4 women experience symptoms and 1 in 4 experience more serious symptoms.
But the menopause remains a taboo topic.
In their workplace guidance for employers, the FOM reported that the majority of women are too embarrassed to talk about menopausal symptoms or address it with their line manager, especially if their line manager happens to be male.
At Aon, we’re aware from conversations with clients, that some women who call in sick due to menopausal symptoms will give a different reason for absence. Worryingly, some women have left work due to difficult symptoms, while a 2016 ITV news report revealed that a quarter of women have considered leaving. Considering that at least two thirds of respondents said they had no support at work, this is hardly surprising.
There is also an awful lot of misunderstanding about menopausal symptoms and how they vary from person to person. Some women may not experience any symptoms at all, while others may struggle for years leading to them to require differing levels of support.
Even among women themselves, there is little awareness overall around what symptoms to expect and when. This society-wide lack of awareness and understanding needs to change.
Employers are in an ideal position to bring about this change by creating a nurturing and open workplace culture where women feel supported enough to discuss their own experiences and struggles with line managers/ HR, or even amongst wider community groups within the workplace.
Employer-led help and support
Treatment for menopause symptoms is limited, with Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) being seen as a common go to solution, however not everyone will be keen on taking HRT as it can carry side effects and some individuals will be unable to due to existing health issues. There are also many self-help approaches people can try as an alternative or alongside HRT, including good nutrition, meditation and undergoing talking therapies like CBT to help manage mental health issues.
It’s important for women to feel supported by their employer and there are plenty of practical ways employers can help. Offering flexible working opportunities, personal days as an alternative to “sick days”, providing desk or overhead fans are just some of the simple approaches employers could introduce that help women feel supported.
Training and education
Training and education should form a key part of any menopause-related support offered through the workplace. In the same way as companies sometimes provide retirement and financial education seminars, some companies may want to arrange education seminars around women’s health issues with menopause specialists who can provide workshops and information sessions targeted at line managers, all employees and or certain females demographics.
Some workplace wellbeing providers can arrange discounted one-to-one training sessions for staff around a range of issues and for many women, having access to a specialist on this level may be of real value.
Look at demographics and key health data
It’s always worth analysing existing data around staff absence as well as general workforce demographic because this can often provide clues about whether there is a significant proportion of the workforce likely to be going through the menopause or who may be approaching it in the next few years. Sometimes there may be sporadic absences in a certain age brackets which could indicate menopause-related health issues.
It may then be helpful to carry out a series of surveys to find out how women feel and ascertain their needs and level of understanding. Are they aware of the symptoms? Do they have any concerns? Would they like to know more?
Employers have an important role to play in creating an open workplace culture which actively supports individuals going through the menopause, through education, training and workplace policy. Having a policy in particular outlines an organisation’s ethos and values and spells out how individuals can expect to be supported.
As with any issue addressed in the workplace, employers need to take a holistic approach. They need to be aware that the menopause will also affect some transgender individuals depending on the nature of transition and what stage an individual is currently at, in order to avoid inadvertent discrimination.
The menopause is an entirely normal stage of a woman’s life but for some individuals, it can be a difficult and distressing experience especially if there is little or no support in the workplace. Employers then must take steps to ensure women feel supported during this time in their life. Doing so can improve retention levels as well as productivity and ultimately, the wellbeing and loyalty of an increasingly expanding workforce demographic.
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