Women make up around half of the UK’s workforce yet, according to the charity Wellbeing of Women, approximately 900,000 women have quit their jobs because of menopause, which represents an untold amount of productivity and positivity.
By supporting those who are experiencing symptoms of menopause, perimenopause (the early stages of menopause) and post-menopause, employees and employers can benefit by reducing instances of:
- Loss of confidence.
- Decreased productivity.
- Taking time off work.
- Lower job satisfaction.
- Making the difficult decision to leave the workforce.
So, without further ado, let’s explore 6 things that every employer should know about menopause and the workplace.
1. Who can experience menopause?
Menopause can affect anyone who has a period. The process typically starts between the ages of 45 and 55 due to lower hormone levels, causing periods to reduce and eventually stop.
Sometimes, menopause can occur earlier naturally, or for reasons such as surgery (removal of the ovaries or uterus, for example), as well as certain cancer treatments and genetic reasons. Sometimes the process can occur earlier for an unknown reason.
The important thing to remember is that menopause can have completely different implications for different people, as we’ll explore further on.
2. The stages of menopause
Menopause can be split into three distinct stages:
- Perimenopause: when symptoms occur before periods have fully stopped, signalling the onset of menopause.
- Menopause: when you’ve gone 12 months without a period. Once this has occurred, you enter postmenopause.
- Postmenopause: the time after menopause has occurred. This stage continues for the rest of your life. People in postmenopause are usually at an increased risk of certain health conditions, such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
3. The symptoms of menopause
It’s crucial to remember that symptoms can be different for everyone entering menopause and can vary based on many factors. No two people are the same, and there is no single fix to support those going through menopause.
According to the NHS, the following key symptoms can occur when perimenopause begins:
Changes to periods
The first sign of perimenopause is usually a change to the normal pattern of periods – they may become irregular, for example. This signifies the onset of perimenopause, which can last for months or even years. Eventually, periods will stop altogether. Once an individual has gone 12 months without a period, this is the clinical indicator of menopause.
Mental Health Symptoms
- Changes in mood, such as low mood, anxiety, mood swings and low self-esteem.
- Problems with memory or concentration (brain fog).
- Hot flushes – usually signified by a sudden feeling of hot or cold around the neck and chest, which can leave a sensation of dizziness.
- Difficulty sleeping and night sweats, which can leave you feeling tired and irritable during waking hours.
- Palpitations – when your heartbeats suddenly become more noticeable.
- Headaches and migraines (which are worse than usually, if you have them regularly).
- Muscle aches and joint pains.
- Changes in body shape.
- Weight gain.
- Changes to the skin, including dryness and itchiness.
- Reduced sex drive.
- Vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort during sex.
- Recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs)
It’s important to note that, as previously mentioned, no two people are the same. One person may experience all of the above symptoms intensely, whereas someone else may experience very few or mild symptoms. They may even experience symptoms not listed here – a doctor can identify if someone is experiencing menopausal symptoms.
4. What does menopause mean for the workplace?
Women over the age of 50 are the fastest-growing group in the UK workforce, according to research from CIPD. The average age for the onset of menopause is 51, so it stands to reason that menopause will begin to have a much larger impact on businesses than ever before.
In the same CIPD research, respondents who reported being affected negatively at work noted the following issues as primary concerns:
- 65% said they were less able to concentrate.
- 58% said they experienced more stress.
- 52% said that they felt less patient with clients and colleagues.
In terms of what this means for businesses, the report states that:
- 30% had taken sick leave due to symptoms (but only a quarter of these felt able to tell their manager.
- 45% said that privacy was the main factor in not disclosing why, 34% said it was down to embarrassment, and 32% said it was due to an unsupportive manager.
And in terms of workplace support, the report states that:
- Only 48% of those going through menopause feel supported by colleagues.
- Just 32% reported having a supportive manager when it comes to menopause.
Based on this data, and considering the prominence of workers who are undoing or due to undergo menopause, it’s clear that businesses should act to support their staff – but more on that later.
5. Is menopause covered by discrimination laws?
In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 shields employees from discrimination based on protected characteristics, such as age, sex, disability pregnancy and more. The Act doesn’t, however, specifically cite menopause amongst these characteristics.
According to SHRM, many employees have turned to employment tribunals using age, disability, or sex discrimination complaints to pursue a claim relating to menopause, so it is certainly possible under the Equality Act 2010.
Additionally, all employers are subject to the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the first point of which is:
“It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”Legislation.gov.uk
So, whilst there are no direct laws stating that an employer must ensure that they support staff who are undergoing menopause, it can certainly be linked to pieces of legislation that employers are bound by, meaning that businesses should be proactive in supporting staff who are experiencing menopause. As discussed above, supporting staff with this will likely lead to positive effects in the workplace, too.
Plus, supporting staff who are experiencing menopause symptoms is simply the right thing to do.
6. How to support staff through menopause
There are many aspects to consider when it comes to staff members who are going through menopause. ACAS offers some excellent advice on considerations that employers should undertake when assessing job responsibilities in relation to someone’s menopause symptoms. For example, a staff member may find their symptoms are harder to deal with if:
- They work long shifts.
- They cannot take regular toilet breaks.
- Their job requires a uniform which may cause discomfort.
- Their job does not have much flexibility.
Considerations like this can’t be given, however, if an employee is unwilling to talk to a manager about their symptoms, which is why tackling the stigma around menopause should be the priority for any business.
Simply training managers on how to listen to their employees is an excellent starting point, as a present and empathetic manager can make all of the difference to the morale of a team.
Employers could also conduct internal research – in other words, simply asking staff (anonymously) what they would like to see in terms of support around menopause, then act accordingly.