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The need for more support at work for women going through the menopause

Every woman will experience menopause and approximately 1 in 4 will experience debilitating symptoms.

The menopause occurs at the end of reproductive years and can have both physical and mental effects. Generally occurring between ages 45 to 55, with symptoms lasting around four years. Around 75% of women experience symptoms during the time that leads up to menopause, or perimenopause.

As our brains age differently, the brain is in constant reaction with the rest of our body and our hormones. Men’s testosterone levels don’t begin to run out until later in life, whereas women’s oestrogen levels begin to fade in mid-life, menopause. These neurological symptoms start in the brain where oestrogen is essential for energy. For example, when oestrogen does not activate the hypothalamus correctly the brain cannot regulate body temperature, leading to one of the most common symptoms of menopause, hot flushes. Other symptoms include fatigue, memory loss and lack of concentration.

But what does this have to do with the workplace? Surely menopause is a private matter, and it only affects half of the population. But unfortunately, that’s the problem. The menopause is still seen as a taboo subject, despite the fact that it affects half the population. And a large proportion of those suffering with symptoms, are in work.

A survey commissioned by childcare provider Koru Kids in January 2022 found that more than one million UK women are considering leaving the workforce because they lack access to menopause support. The survey of 2,000 menopausal women found that 63% said their workplace did not have a policy in place to support them, and some said that while their employers were ‘sympathetic’, they did not offer any real support. The upshot is that women are being pushed out of the workplace due to their biology.

Another recent research project with the West Midlands Police found that 10% of women had given up work altogether, due to menopause, while 87% stated their line manager would benefit from menopause training. The survey found that 25% had time off work, and a staggering 94% said that their menopausal symptoms had a negative impact on their work.

The need for businesses to introduce menopause policies to support their female staff is clear. But it can’t just be about writing a document. Policies have to be properly implemented to create change within an organisation, and a structured approach is necessary to ensure both a behavioural and cultural change.

We’ve been speaking to our clients on this topic, and some are already actively implementing menopause policies. A major telecoms company has provided all staff with a toolkit on practical information to increase awareness, offer support, and to educate, after finding that nearly two-thirds of women who experienced menopause symptoms said that this impacted them at work.

Separately, a technology services client of ours has worked with a well-known menopause campaigner to implement a policy. They have also run webinars and setup a monthly menopause drop in call for anyone who wants to join. Another client, a recruitment and HR company, has said they’re actively encouraging conversations around the menopause, to break down the taboo.

And at ILX, this is something we’re doing too. We believe that education, information and support are essential for employee retention and satisfaction, and that they help to create a supportive and informed culture within an organisation.

But how do companies manage a change like this?

The CIPD and BUPA have a guide for managing menopause at work, while the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) has an interactive guide for employers on how they can support staff.

Helpful adjustments may include:

  • Flexible working, enabling later start times and regular breaks
  • A change to performance management processes
  • Changes to absentee management processes

As an employer what can be done to help?

  • Build awareness and remove the ‘taboo’ of menopause
  • Train managers and implement best practices
  • Expand the companies’ network with other companies to stimulate change
  • Implement access to menopause clinics, etc. as a part of staff benefits

Through raising awareness and education we can help remove the stigma that comes with menopause, enabling women to feel comfortable to ask for support when they need it.