According to The Faculty of Occupational Medicine, almost eight out of ten menopausal women are currently in work. However, despite their significant contributions to the workforce, the menopause is still regarded as a taboo subject and not enough is being done to address the issue of menopause discrimination, highlights Dr Jane Benjamin,
In fact, one in ten women who have worked while going through the menopause have quit their job because of their symptoms. Moreover, 63 percent have highlighted that their employers have failed to implement policies to help support them going through this transition.
Amid this backdrop, it will come as no surprise that employment tribunals involving menopause have increased by 44 percent year-on-year, with the menopause being mentioned 207 times in tribunals in 2021, up 75 percent on 2020.
What do symptoms impact?
In and out of work, some symptoms can impact confidence and can be extremely difficult to deal with on both a physical and emotional level. Everyone will experience the menopause differently, therefore, businesses need to seriously consider the policies they have in place to ensure all employees are receiving the support and care they need.
Simply continuing to ignore the issue is not only detrimental to the health of women themselves, but to our economy and women’s’ wider place in the workforce – risking stalling the rise of women into c-suite positions and advances to address gender income disparity.
Unfortunately, due to lack of general menopause awareness, women often don’t realise the symptoms they are experiencing are menopause related and therefore are not getting the help they need. In fact, some individuals can experience perimenopausal symptom 10 years before the onset of actual menopause, which is around 45-55 years of age.
Entitlements to support in the workplace
Moreover, many women don’t realise that they are legally entitled to support in the workplace and are hesitant to disclose menopause-related health problems to line mangers – often out of embarrassment and a fear of being stigmatised. Equally, many employees are unaware that the menopause is a health and wellbeing concern that falls under their duty of care to their employees and needs to be handled with the upmost sensitivity.
The Women and Equalities Committee is already conducting an inquiry into menopause and the workplace. However, whilst this is a step in the right direction and the hope it that this will lead to concrete legislative changes to tackle menopause discrimination, such legislation will take time to come to fruition and raises a number of challenges when it comes to the question of enforcing and regulating adoption.
Therefore, a vast responsibility sits with employers and the immediate steps they can take to help address the menopause in the workplace.
Redirecting the current narrative
A first key step to redirecting the current narrative is for companies to ensure that the menopause is visible within their HR policies, for example, through specific menopause action plans and outlining supportive routes into menopause healthcare as standard.
From a practical perspective, there are also a number of considerations employees can make to ease some of the difficulties menopausal women experience at work.
Firstly, review workplace temperature and ventilation control policies. This may be as simple as providing desktop fans or strategically locating workstations away from heat sources. Equally, provide access to cold drinking water in all work situations and ensure access to washroom facilities. These may seem like minor adjustments, however, they will make a considerable difference to improving individuals’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
If uniforms are essential, ensure you are listening to the concerns of your employees and are accommodating to individual needs. For example, can thermally comfortable or breathable fabrics be used instead? This can also extend to providing optional layers and encouraging employees to remove certain aspects that may cause added discomfort.
Moreover, there needs to be a general understanding and wider education around the symptoms and side-effects of the menopause amongst all employees – to create both a supportive working environment and to signpost individuals in the right direction to get the help they need. At the end of the day, the menopause is not just a gender issue. It can also have an impact on colleagues or those supporting someone going through it. Therefore, it should be considered as an organisational and not a personal issue.
Ultimately, with symptoms often being dismissed by employers, the lack of knowledge around the menopause in the workplace is a key concern and could have potential knock-on effects. For example, researchers have forecasted that 1 million women in the UK could leave their jobs this year as a result of employers failing to provide appropriate menopause support.
Despite conversations starting to open up, the menopause is still shrouded in stigma and some women are struggling in the workplace as a result. Now, we need to address this misplaced rhetoric and make sure menopausal women receive the support they deserve.
By Dr Jane Benjamin, General Practice and chair of the HCA Healthcare UK Primary Care Menopause Group.
Dr Jane Benjamin - General Practice, Health Screening & Occupational Health with an interest in Women’s Health & Menopause. She is also a member of the British Menopause Society and current chair of the HCA Primary Care Menopause Group.