Very little is being done to support women working through menopause but implementing a strategy is simple to do, says Julie Dennis.
08 October 2018 | Julie Dennis
Women comprise almost half the UK workforce and there are currently 3.5 million women over the age of 50 working in the UK. We can expect to see that number increase alongside the rising retirement age.
The average age for menopause in the UK is 51 but symptoms often appear in the mid to late 40s. However, one in 100 women will experience menopause before the age of 40 due to surgery, illness or a natural early menopause.
Typical symptoms include low energy, poor concentration, mood swings, anxiety, hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbance, depression, joint stiffness, palpitations, heavy periods, dizziness, nausea, weight gain and migraines.
Symptoms last on average four to eight years although it should be noted that approximately one in five women may experience no symptoms at all.
Symptoms at work
The effects of menopause symptoms can be far-reaching and have a significant impact in the workplace - not just for the woman experiencing symptoms but for colleagues and clients too. Common examples include:
-Inability to recall facts, figures and names leading to a loss of confidence in self and with colleagues and clients;
-Mood swings that affect the wider team. A formerly engaging employee may become short-tempered with colleagues and create discomfort and discord in the group with whom she works; and
-Unpredictable and embarrassing hot flushes result in a reluctance to lead or participate in internal or client-facing meetings.
- The following statements collected as part of my '2018 Menopause at Work' survey further demonstrate the challenges faced by women working through menopause.
- "I can see lips moving but really struggle to focus and take in what's being said or understand it."
- "I have forgotten to attend meetings and I've had emotional outbursts and tears which impact on my ability to manage others."
- "Brain fog and debilitating fatigue have seriously affected my memory and my ability to think and problem solve."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a study by the University of Nottingham in 2014 revealed that nearly 50 per cent of women believed that their job performance had been affected by menopause and 25 per cent had considered leaving work as a result of their symptoms.
The legal risk
There is a potential legal risk when not supporting women working through menopause. While there is no specific legislation, menopause is covered under the 2010 Equality Act and some cases related to menopause at work have been won, including:
1. 2012 Merchant v BT won on the grounds of gender discrimination; and
2. 2018 Davies c Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service won on the grounds of disability discrimination.
Support in the workplace
So what can employers do to avoid these critical business and legal risks and better support women working through menopause?
When developing a menopause strategy it is important not to single out older women for special treatment. Instead, you should focus on the three key pillars of awareness, education and support.
- Raise awareness across your organisation for all employees by introducing menopause as an inclusive topic. Men and younger women need to understand it too so they can support colleagues, friends and family.
- Educate line managers on employment law, best practice workplace solutions and reasonable adjustments so they are well positioned to lead and develop mid-life female team members.
- Provide specific support to women with balanced, expert advice on managing symptoms at work and home so they can continue to be effective in their roles.
Develop a menopause toolkit to deliver on each of these three pillars using the most effective means of communication and training for your organisation. Your options include:
- Expert-led workshops for female employees;
- Appointment of menopause champions;
- Online menopause awareness training for men and younger women;
- Menopause policy and fact sheets; and
- Line manager-specific training and guidance.
World Menopause Day
It is World Menopause Day on 18 October - a chance for organisations across the UK to demonstrate their commitment to supporting the needs of women experiencing menopause symptoms in the workplace.
What will you do to promote an inclusive environment and encourage open supportive conversations?
Julie Dennis is a menopause coach and trainer