A recent survey found 8 out of 10 employees experiencing menopause symptoms felt unable to tell their boss this was the real reason for their absences.
It’s a lose-lose scenario. It holds back inclusion strategies, affects productivity and staff morale, and companies risk losing senior role models.
However, things are changing. After the deafening silence surrounding it for so long, leaders and managers are making positive changes to support employees through this life stage.
Here I will explain why menopause is a workplace issue and how to design a fit-for-purpose policy that normalises female health and helps retain senior talent.
Menopause has a sizeable impact on the workforce
Menopause is a natural life stage that affects half of the population. But for years, menopause has been hidden behind a veil of secrecy and silence in the workplace.
Statistics show 87% of employees would not speak to their employer about their menopause symptoms, citing feelings of shame and fear.
It’s also the reason why 1 in 10 women, trans and non-binary staff leave the workforce.
From insomnia and anxiety to memory loss and chronic fatigue, the effects of the menopause on employees can be diverse, but all can affect performance, confidence, and enjoyment of work.
While the spotlight is on menopause in wider society, many businesses remain unprepared to deal with the impacts of menopause on their workforce. Perhaps because a right to menopause leave does not exist.
The UK is one of the countries blazing the trail in promoting menopause awareness and support. While it has stopped short of legislation, the Government has proven it’s a priority issue by setting up a Menopause Taskforce focused on tackling taboos and stigmas, including at work.
The benefits of having a workplace menopause policy
In the UK, menopause is not a protected characteristic, but sex, age and disability are.
It is also a priority issue for the Government, with the UK Menopause Taskforce mandated to tackle taboos and stigmas. Therefore, employers failing to keep up and make positive changes will start to feel the pressure.
It makes business sense, too. The fastest-growing employee demographic today is women over the age of 50, representing a widening pool of talent.
The impacts of menopause hit particularly hard as they tend to come at a critical point in a person’s career when they are most likely to reach a leadership position.
So, if we want to continue to increase female representation at the top and maintain their valuable contributions to a company’s bottom line, things need to change.
An inclusive and supportive workplace can also help organisations attract the best talent at a time of hard-to-fill vacancies and skill shortages.
As a workplace benefit, it signals to candidates that you care about your staff and offer a supportive environment – things that could set you apart from competitors. It is a powerful message to younger employees too, who have this life stage ahead of them.
For example, a recent survey found 57% of respondents said if they were considering working for a company, it would be “very important” or “somewhat important” if a commitment to menopause support was expressed.
What’s more, over the past four years, interest in Menopause Leave has increased by 1300%.
Finally, if employers fail to adapt to changing attitudes towards menopause, they risk becoming vulnerable to legal action. Citations of menopause have increased by 75% between 2020 and 2021 in employment tribunals, and we can expect this to continue.
The key principles of a workplace menopause policy
Companies looking to future-proof their health and DEI strategies have two options. Reviewing and rewriting existing policies to include menopause-related protections and support or creating a standalone menopause policy.
Once this has been decided, the first step is to start the menopause conversation in the workplace with a published statement of intent and introduction to the company’s plans.
Arrange a whole company discussion to explain why you are introducing menopause policies and the benefits to all employees and invite staff to contribute their thoughts and ideas – in person or anonymously.
You may also want to complete a Risk Assessment as part of your obligation to protect the health and safety of the workforce. For those affected by the menopause, this could include making sure that symptoms are not made worse by the workplace and making changes to help workers manage symptoms.
Once you have completed an assessment and have reviewed the views of your staff, it is time to design a policy that:
- Provides resources and training for managers to increase awareness around the issue and how they can best respond to support staff members.
- Clearly defines how employees must report any health or performance issues relating to menopause and who they should speak to within the business.
- Lists the initiatives or support available, including employee assistance programmes, health insurance, or mental health first aid, as well as external informational resources such as those published by the CIPD.
- Outlines the company’s willingness to offer reasonable adjustments to ease symptoms and support staff when symptoms are impacting their performance or wellbeing. This includes any flexible working options, paid leave, changes to duties, extra breaks to rest or changes to the dress code.
- Commits to increasing representation of women over the age of 45 in top leadership positions to act as role models for younger generations of staff.
- Invites expert speakers to empower women within the workforce to make positive life changes to support their menopause journeys. Awareness days such as World Menopause Day and International Women’s Day are great opportunities to bring attention to the issue and generate engagement among staff.
Importantly, though, workplace menopause policies must continue to evolve. Businesses must remain responsive to changing attitudes, scientific research, and staff feedback, adapting their menopause policies in response.
By Finn Bartram, Editor at People Managing People