In this blog I’ll explain why menopause is such an important topic for any workplace.
How many women are affected in the workplace?
Almost 8 out of 10 women in work are in the menopausal age range according to the UK Faculty of Occupational Medicine.
That’s a lot of women.
If you manage women or work with women most of them will experience peri-menopausal and menopausal symptoms at some stage.
For some, the symptoms will be minimal and manageable while for others debilitating and will be the reason they quit, don’t go for promotion, ask to be demoted, reduce their hours and will have a reduction in their impact and productivity.
In this blog, I’m going to share with you the impact the menopause can have and what managers, team leaders, HR teams and employers can do to be prepared and how they can respond to this natural part of a woman’s life.
What I’ll cover in this blog:
- What is menopause?
- Menopause data worth knowing
- The 4 key issues of menopause in the workplace
- What menopause symptoms affect the workplace and your colleague
- How the workplace affects the workplace and your colleague
- What organisations and managers can do to reduce the negative impact of menopause in the work place
What is menopause?
The menopause is natural and it’s an unavoidable phase in every woman’s life with the average age for women going through menopause to be 51.
Menopause data worth knowing
- Some women start menopause early in their 30’s or 40’s but there are women who have started as young as 14.
- Menopause can start naturally, because of a medical condition or can be medically related.
- Transgender and non-binary people can be affected.
- There’s an estimation that there are around 13 million women in the UK either peri-menopausal or menopausal. That’s one third of the female population.
What are the main issues with menopause in the workplace?
4 main issues with menopause in the workplace are:
- Legal perspective
- Social responsibility
Menopausal woman are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce.
There are currently 4.4 million women aged 50-64 in the workplace in the UK. That’s an increase from 3.3 million just ten years ago, an increase of a third. (Centre for Aging Better UK)
Since 1992, there’s been an increase of women in the workforce aged between 50 – 64.
In 1992 49.9% of women made up the workforce.
In 2020 it was 67.5%
That’s an increase of 35.3%
UK employment rates of men for the same period have increased 18.3%
The UK Employment rates 1992-2020 for men and women aged 50 – 64
The cost of replacing leavers affected by menopause symptoms is around £30,000 according to HR Magazine.
It’s not only the cost to replace them to take into account.
In the workplace, there can be frustrations with:
- The time it takes to recruit new staff
- The time it takes to train new team members
- How the current team members feel ‘filling in’ while the post is filled. Chances are they already have a decent sized workload of their own.
For many women their symptoms can impact their productivity which impacts the organisation.
Menopause costs the UK economy millions and this is largely due to employers not understanding it.
In the 2017 UK Government report it was estimated that 174,200 women will experience severe menopause symptoms that will affect their ability in the workplace.
The costs associated are:
- Absence related costs – £7.3million
- Lost productivity costs – 14 million working days
And it’s not unexpected that the impact trickles down into the economy of the UK.
Menopause: What’s the law that protects employees and employers?
A common question asked is:
Is there a law that says you have to make changes in the workplace?
No. There is no specific law that directly relates to the menopause YET but menopause at work is covered by certain pieces of legislation to protect employers and employees:
- The Equality Act 2010
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
The Equality Act 2010
- The Equality Act 2010 is where menopause is largely covered under three protected characteristics: age, sex and disability discrimination.
- Employers have been taken to court under the Discrimination Act.
The Health and Safety at Work Act
The Health and Safety at Work Act, which provides for safe working, extends to the working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms
It extends to the working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms so a risk assessment should consider the specific needs of menopausal women and ensure that their working environment will not make their symptoms worse.
Why should employers and managers give two hoots about menopause?
Menopause is a natural event in a woman’s life. While there are steps she can take to help her through this time of her life, the symptoms can still be debilitating.
As an employer, a manager or a colleague, supporting these women is the right thing to do.
A survey by Dr Louise Newson and Dr Rebecca Lewis highlighted key findings.
Over 90% of respondents felt that their perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms were having a negative impact on their work, over 50% of respondents stating their colleagues had noted a deterioration in their work performance.
- 9% of women had to undergo a disciplinary procedure.
- 50% of the respondents had taken time of work due to their symptoms.
- 19% had been absent from work for more than 8 weeks.
- 32% of women had considered leaving their job
Data from Centre for Aging Better (2019)
Financial security for women is already at greater risk in old age than men. Women are more likely to take breaks from their employment or to work part-time which means they build up pension pots that are smaller.
370,000 women out of 4,458,000 women had quit employment or thought about quitting.
There is a Pension gap of 40.3% compared to male counterpart and women’s retirement income is currently, on average, £42 per week lower than men.
And we appreciate how employment contributes to mental health, support, self-esteem and purpose so it’s important to keep women in employment.
How symptoms can affect your employee or colleague.
There are 40+ symptoms of menopause.
The most common symptoms for women are:
- 40.3% suffer with fatigue
- 35.1% suffer with hot flushes
- 34.6% suffer with brain fog
- 31.9% suffer with anxiety and worry
- 29.5% suffer with insomnia
More symptoms that may be experienced are:
- A lack of confidence, anxiety, worry, heart palpitations
- Brain fog, headaches, joint pain
- Weight gain, mood swings, night sweats
In a 2011 survey of women experiencing menopause, one in five (20%) said it had a negative impact on their manager’s perception of their competence at work.
What can your organisation do to minimise the impact of menopause?
It’s about sharing information and making conversations about menopause less difficult.
Have and encourage open and on-going conversations about what support is needed.
For the women in the workplace and managers to know how to support them.
Make it easier for managers to have a conversation about menopause
Provide them with training so they:
- Understand how the menopause impacts the employee and the workplace
- Understand the adjustments required
- Know that it’s up to the individual to disclose any particular symptoms or health issues they may be experiencing
As an organisation:
- Talk about menopause, raise awareness, normalise it
- Have a policy or guidance in place
- Review absence policies
- Introduce support groups
- Offer flexible working
These aren’t cast in stone suggestions. Your organisation can implement changes that make a positive impact.
Adjustments to the workplace environment
What adjustments can be introduced for those going through menopause?
- Access to cold drinking water
- Sanitary products in clean and comfortable toilets
- A desk fan or a seat by a window – good ventilation
- A rest area
- Uniforms made from natural fibres
- Reduce exposure to loud noises
Again, these aren’t cast in stone. There may be other adjustments that would work specifically for your workplace.
Talk directly with your team and colleagues to find out what would help them.
- Women have an important part to play in the growth of organisations and the economy.
- Supporting women to manage their health needs through this natural stage of their lives makes economic and moral sense and will reap benefits to both employers and employees.
- Adjustments don’t have to be expensive.
- With training and a better understanding of the menopause your organisation can be leaps and bounds ahead of other organisations.
Source: Jo Brewis
Professor of People and Organisations at The Open
University Business School
• Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy •
Specialises in teaching research methodology,
researcher development skills, organisational behaviour,
organisation studies and HRM at all levels
• Research interests include: • the intersections between the body, sexuality,
gender, emotions, identity, organising and
organisations, including publications on menopause
transition and women’s economic participation and
methodological considerations in organisation
studies deploying queer theory
• academic practices in organisation studies
research, including publications on research ethics
and peer review
• Jo is the co-author of the 2017 government report ‘The
effects of menopause transition on women’s economic
participation in the UK’ and together with academic
colleagues she is working to further the menopause in the
Want to know more about menopause awareness for your workplace?
Here’s some additional resources.
How to create a workplace culture that supports those going through menopause
A guide for managers: What you need to know about surgical menopause
Menopause: Can it increase anxiety, worry, panic attacks or depression?