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Managing Menopause

Menopause in the workplace: breaking the taboo

iStock / Getty Images Plus / seb_ra

Deborah Garlick

Director, Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace

Working through menopause can mean struggling with a host of symptoms. By putting a few simple measures in place, employers can support their workforce more effectively.

Looking back over the last three years, it’s amazing how much is changing around support for menopause in the workplace. As we head into our fourth year of menopause in the workplace conferences, it’s a subject that is – thankfully – gathering traction fast.

Back in 2016, it was difficult to find any companies with support in place, let alone a policy or guidance document. But, now, we’re seeing an increasing number of forward-thinking organisations leading the way in breaking the taboo, getting the conversations started and, above all, supporting women when and where they need it – in the workplace.

Women are retiring later, so menopause is a more common topic

Menopause is a completely normal phase in a woman’s life, usually between the ages of 45 and 55, sometimes earlier. With retirement ages rocketing, it means women are working 10, 20 possibly 30 years post menopause. But statistics tell us that one in four women consider leaving work due to their menopause symptoms. (Three in four experience menopausal symptoms and one in four experience severe symptoms.) If employers support them through this transition, they will be retaining experienced, talented staff, saving on recruitment costs and training. But, it’s not just about the bottom line – put simply, it’s the right thing to do.

Women think that they won’t be taken seriously or fear being thought of as ‘old and past it’.

Psychological symptoms are often overlooked

Every woman experiences menopause differently and symptoms can change over time. Most people recognise the stereotypical hot flushes, but what surprises many are the psychological effects.

You simply can’t make assumptions about a woman’s experience when you consider the range of symptoms. Physical symtoms include hot flushes, irregular periods and ‘flooding’ (very heavy bleeding), sleep problems and fatigue, vaginal dryness and urinary issues, while psychological symptoms include problems with memory recall, anxiety and worry, mood changes and loss of confidence.

These don’t stop when a woman arrives at work; many women just feel too embarrassed to talk about it. They think that they won’t be taken seriously or fear being thought of as ‘old and past it’ – concerns that have been highlighted through various research. When this is combined with the lack of awareness about symptoms (especially during perimenopause, and considering that many women struggle with even realising they’re menopausal), this is when they may consider leaving.

Workshops, training, and policy changes can help organisations talk about menopause

Things are changing. Some pioneering companies are bringing menopause support in their workplaces to the forefront. We’ve worked with organisations from public and private sector, all determined to break the taboo around menopause.

How an organisation introduces support varies. It’s key to get everyone involved. Only by breaking the stigma associated with menopause can we start to see it for what it is. Workshops, training, intranet groups, policy and guidance documents and the introduction of reasonable adjustments, have all been introduced into workplaces. What these organisations have done is massive; they have started something big.

Menopause is not a ‘women’s issue’; everyone needs to know about it and that’s ultimately how we will see our nation’s attitude to menopause change. And although the business case is clear, all the organisations we’ve worked with have done it because they know it’s the right thing to do.

It’s time for all employers to do this. It’s time to take menopause off the taboo list and put it firmly on the priority list.

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