With employers and the menopause, it’s hard to tell whether they think it’s a taboo, not part of their remit, or that they’re entirely unaware of it. “It still feels like a nice to do,” says Niki Haggerty-James, Business Development Manager at Health & Her, a company providing educational tools to help employers become more knowledgeable about the menopause and help sufferers.
To bridge the menopause deficit, Health & Her have produced a Menopause Workplace support plan to raise awareness among managers and provide employees with access to menopause specialists. The plan can also be tailored around individual businesses “rather than a one-size-fits-all.”
The need for greater menopause support is significant, as around eight in ten women have no information or training shared by their employer, says Haggerty-James. During a webinar held by Health & Her held recently, she says that 79% of participants said they had no workplace menopause policy.
Menopause: symptoms and impact
Greater awareness, training, and access to menopause resources are crucial because 5.1 million women in the workplace are affected, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Economically, the menopause costs the UK 14 million in lost days per year, equating to a 1.8bn windfall in workplace sick days and absenteeism, according to Health & Her research from 2019.
But economic losses aren’t the only issues, workplace productivity and mental health is affected by women remaining unsupported in their menopause journey. A recent Health & Her survey on women in the workplace going through perimenopause, the transitional period before menopause, and menopause revealed that brain fog affects 77%, followed by stress and anxiety (73%) and poor concentration (71%). At its most serious the menopause could, suggests Haggerty-James, be contributing to those aged 50-54 having the highest suicide rate among women in the UK.
For employers, the tell-tale signs that someone might be suffering from the menopause include low mood and concentration, avoidance of tasks and commitments, absenteeism, not going for a promotion, changes in individual behaviours, less tolerance, introversion, and even job resignation.
To stop menopausal women from underperforming and leaving the workforce for good, menopause support needs to be considered part of workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) says Haggerty-James, which means taking into account the diverse groups it impacts.
Who gets affected by the menopause?
“It [menopause] needs to be regulated under DEI like other conditions like mental health and pregnancy. It’s naïve to think it’s a problem that only affects women, it affects everyone.” This includes transgender and non-binary staff, who might have biologically female reproductive organs or be experiencing hormonal fluctuations due to medication.
Menopause can also affect the mental health of men as partners of sufferers. Here, Haggerty-James refers to a 2017 ONS survey which found that a quarter of women admitted their relationship with their significant other is affected by the menopause. With high rates of women of menopausal age initiating divorces today, the mental health impact of low menopause support on dependants as well as the sufferers themselves is clear.
Effective menopause support cannot happen if employers don’t intervene. So, if leadership see women suffering in silence, interventions must be respectful, she warns.
As the menopause can be an emotional issue, she also advises that managers “like with all leadership conversations” remain “supportive and human” in their approach.
How leaders and businesses can support menopause sufferers
Line managers, she believes, have a duty of care which should extend to educating themselves on the menopause as part of their annual training: “Take time to listen in a quiet place and ask open questions like, how are you? How can I support you better? Show reassurance for those doubting their ability, reassure them that you want to help. Never assume. Be patient, and prepare for silence.”
But not all companies are blanking the menopause: “most employers can see the need for change, but they often don’t know where to start. The starting point is always awareness, we support companies to understand their baseline need with our Health and Equality in the workplace survey.”
This includes having open conversations about the menopause and providing “cool and quiet rooms” where women can manage symptoms like anxiety, headaches, and hot flashes. Another must is toilet facilities, which may sound obvious, but menopause sufferers can find this challenging in frontline roles, such as in the emergency services sector, she explains.
Menopause sufferers can also experience sleep deprivation, which exacerbates symptoms like anxiety. Here, she suggests employers allow for flexible working, enabling sufferers to start work later or work from home if they haven’t slept well.
Firms can also hold face-to-face awareness sessions, which can start conversations and help people open up and share their lived experiences. Haggerty-James has held these sessions and says feedback from the men and women involved has been “fabulous.”
“Lots of men say they feel more educated to support family members and colleagues. With all taboos, if you want to change the culture inclusion is important, and that’s allyship.”
However, she warns that as “people are individuals” different forms of support are needed. One idea is menopause cafes, which are just for people who are suffering, “later you might branch that out to allies,” she says. “Some symptoms I wouldn’t want to discuss with work colleagues, but I might with friends at work, so having a mixture so everyone feels included is key.”
The many interventions on menopause support are clear, but what do sufferers want the most? Health & Her conducted a survey which found the most popular demands are access to free menopause specialists, flexible working, training managers to help, and free menopause products.
What makes Health & Her stand out most isn’t its data insights, no matter how illuminating. Their desire to prevent menopausal women from leaving the workforce is what’s most impressive.
Should their plan be adopted by firms, more women in senior roles will stay, progress, and mentor other women, creating a more age and gender diverse workforce, which is good for all.
To find out more about Health & Her and what they can offer workplaces, click here.