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Navigating Menopause in the workspace: Advice for businesses


Navigating Menopause in the workspace: Advice for businesses

Ilona Alcock - Business Express

Ilona Alcock, co-founder of Manchester-based business consultancy, Elevate, discusses both the individual and business impact of menopause in the workplace, and best practice for organisations when supporting women with symptoms.

For too long, women’s health has not been a widely discussed topic in the workplace, particularly when it comes to experiencing menopause. In fact, menopause has historically been seen as a taboo subject both in and out of the workplace, and as a result, women have often faced discrimination due to their symptoms. 

Unfortunately, the consequence of this is that many women do not receive the support they need, and can sometimes end up reducing their hours, changing roles or even leaving work entirely. report by the Fawcett Society – the largest representative survey of menopausal women conducted in the UK – found that 10 per cent of respondents had left employment because of menopausal symptoms.

In response to this, in 2021 the Minister for Employment commissioned an independent report which detailed the impact menopause can have on women’s working lives, as well as the government’s approach to providing support. Following the report, the government created the UK Menopause Taskforce, to share best practice recommendations and identify areas for improvement, and shortly after, published the ‘Our Vision for the Women’s Health Strategy for England’ which announced plans to appoint the first ever Women’s Health Ambassador for England, Dame Lesley Regan. 

It is clear that progress is being made at a government level. But despite the positive steps that are being taken, there is still so much more that needs to be done to break down the taboos that continue to exist. 

So, what is the impact of menopause in the workplace, and the cost to both the individual women and businesses, of not offering the correct support?

At a time when employers are struggling to attract and retain talent, businesses should have more focus than ever on ensuring that staff feel safe and supported when coming into work. Findings released by menopause support app, Balance, found that the true cost of the menopause on the country’s economy was a staggering £10 billion – a huge silent cost for businesses who aren’t offering enough support, if at all. 

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This comes as women experiencing perimenopause or menopause symptoms find that it can impact their career; impacting their ability to perform at work, halting their career progression and for some, resulting in leaving work altogether. With an estimated 13 million people currently going through perimenopause or menopause in the UK, ensuring women have the support they need to manage their symptoms is key to ensuring we don’t lose valuable talent and employees. 

Thankfully, many businesses are now waking up to the fact that robust measures for support need to be in place. But after rising concerns that more women are leaving work due to menopause symptoms, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) recently issued guidance on menopause in the workplace, highlighting that employers could be sued if they are found not to be making reasonable adjustments for those who qualify. For businesses who have not yet caught up with best practice, and have not yet changed their processes and implemented the correct policy, they must catch up quickly to ensure they do not face both legal and financial challenges down the line.

Menopause best practice for businesses 

There’s no doubt that generally there is a lack of information and education about the menopause, and it’s arguable that this is causing many of the challenges we’re seeing the workplace when it comes to lack of support. There are whole host of misconceptions around the condition too, including the age menopause begins and some of the common symptoms. In fact, symptoms are often wide ranging and can be both physical and mental. Furthermore, the severity of symptoms and lack of understanding can lead to misdiagnosis of lots of other conditions, including depression and early onset Alzheimer’s. 

To ensure that the correct support can be provided and that any issues can be addressed sensitively, employers should ensure they are introducing comprehensive training sessions for all staff around the menopause and the impact it can have. This should include a breakdown of all the symptoms that can arise and how women can access the appropriate support.

Beyond that, to make sure the correct measures are being taken, and to reassure staff that sufficient support is in place, internal workplace policies on the menopause should be introduced by all businesses. These policies should include an accurate definition of the menopause and its possible array of symptoms, as well as the support procedure on offer. Beyond this, businesses should consider what current policies are in place, and if they are fully inclusive for women with menopause and adjust accordingly. 

Finally, creating an inclusive culture is also a huge factor in improving the current situation for women. Without feeling confident enough to seek support, providing training and having those robust internal policies will fall redundant. The onus is on businesses and their HR teams to foster an honest and open culture, so that discussing menopause is no longer seen as a taboo. On top of tailored training sessions for those in senior positions, this can come from offering specific support networks and feedback sessions. And while some women may still not want to discuss the menopause or disclose their current symptoms, businesses should ensure that the workplace is a safe and supportive place for them.

Final thoughts

There is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to supporting women in work who are going through the menopause, and ensuring the correct support is in place for them. But with the positive steps that have already been taken, from businesses introducing menopause policies and the government’s menopause taskforce, to the latest guidance from EHRC, I am hopeful that more support will be given to women, and that they will feel confident in seeking it out should they need it.

 

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