British politician, Labour Member of Parliament for Swansea East
The menopause remains a taboo or, even worse, a laughing matter – particularly in the workplace, women will continue to suffer. Long-term, we should look at how we educate the next-generation.
Over 50% of the UK population are female – that’s 33.5 million of us, most of whom will live way beyond menopausal age.
Early menopause can be caused by medical conditions or treatments
In the UK, the average age that women reach the menopause is 51, but around 1 in every 100 women experience early menopause due to medical conditions, treatment or surgery. Whatever age women first experience symptoms, the severity of their suffering varies greatly and for some it can be an unbearable time – stressful, debilitating and completely life-changing.
Whilst the menopause remains a taboo subject or, even worse, a laughing matter – particularly in the workplace, women will continue to suffer. Long-term we can look at how we educate the next-generation but we need to change things much quicker than that.
Many women have no option but to continue to work, which can be physically difficult, and also emotionally damaging.
GPs and workplaces alike can make the menopause easier
Enhancing training for GPs to enable them to better diagnose menopausal symptoms as well as improving treatment options and making them accessible to all will make coping much easier for women. However, it is still vital that their managers and colleagues understand that they may need to make some modifications in the workplace during this time of their lives.
Because life does not stop for women when they reach the menopause – even if they are suffering from crippling side effects. Many women have no option but to continue to work, which can be physically difficult, and also emotionally damaging if those around them expect them to just carry on as normal.
With studies showing that menopause symptoms can have a significant impact on attendance and performance in the workplace, employers need to start looking at what they can do to help these women and improve productivity.
What employers need to know about the menopause
Employers have a duty of care to all of their employees. Most will have policies in place for maternity and for long term sickness – but very few will have even considered guidelines for women experiencing menopausal symptoms. Simple adjustments such as relaxed uniform policies, flexible working conditions and temperature control in offices could have a huge impact on a woman’s decision to remain in her job.
This is a win-win situation. Employers would benefit from being able to retain valuable, trustworthy and experienced employees, whilst women would find it easier to cope with the physical symptoms of the menopause with simple adjustments such as being able to travel outside of rush hour or wear cooler, less restrictive, clothing. They would also feel valued and supported in their professional roles, which in turn would help with the psychological barriers that they are facing.
Two thirds of women working through the menopause say they currently have no support at all from their employers.
Whilst this might sound shocking, it is not surprising and is the reason why 25% of women say they have considered leaving their job and 1 in 10 actually do end up handing in their notice.
Who is onboard with helping change menopause policies?
Many unions are already championing a call for menopause policies in work places – an excellent example is USDAW who have encouraged Tesco to set up pilot menopause support groups.
And there’s Nottinghamshire Police who were the first in the country to introduce a menopause policy which includes flexible working and lighter-weight uniforms.
We need to take the best practice from these examples, share them with other employers and ensure that menopause guidelines become compulsory for all businesses.
I have been putting pressure on the government about this for months. I have asked them to make menopause policies mandatory. I have asked them to support women who are really suffering and need help. I have asked them to show compassion and make these statutory as soon as possible. And I will keep asking them until I see results.