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What does it mean to be a menopause-friendly employer?

November 9, 2022

Over many years, employers have expanded their policies and practices to better answer the needs and expectations of the modern workforce.

From flexible working and financial wellbeing to first aid for mental health, there are now multiple, interconnected layers of support available that cover many aspects of our professional and personal lives.

There is, however, one area that has largely been absent from this conversation – the menopause. Despite having a very real impact on millions of people, it is a subject that has historically been considered inappropriate for the workplace or seemingly dismissed with a comment about hot flushes, leaving many to struggle along in silence.

Thankfully, things are changing. In recent years, there has been a more open conversation around the menopause, driven in part by media coverage fronted by high-profile celebrities including Davina McCall. Menopause Awareness Day and World Menopause Month – co-ordinated by the International Menopause Society and the World Health Organization (WHO) – has also provided a focal point for these conversations every year in October.

Encouraging more open discussion

This positive momentum is underlined by research from consulting firm KPMG, which found that three-quarters (74%) of perimenopausal, menopausal and postmenopausal working adults say they are aware of the menopause being more openly discussed in recent years.

The same research also highlighted that employers have been slightly slower to embrace change, however, with only two-fifths (38%) of respondents saying their own employer is helping to raise awareness and just a fifth (18%) feeling supported by their employer when they developed symptoms.

These figures point to a gap between changing public attitudes and practical support in the workplace where it is needed. Because, while the experience of the menopause will be different for every individual, there is no doubt that it can represent a physically uncomfortable and emotionally difficult time. Coping with the symptoms can be challenging in isolation, let alone when experienced in the context of demanding home and working lives.

As well as the commonly referenced hot flushes, menopausal women, as well as some trans men, can be affected by impaired sleep, mood swings, and feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability and panic. Some will also lose memory function and their capacity for concentration.

These symptoms typically occur between the ages of 45 and 55, beginning in the months before periods stop and lasting for several years. For a small proportion, the menopause will begin before the age of 45. This can happen naturally, or, in some cases, it can be the result of medical intervention, such as surgery to remove the ovaries or cancer treatments that cause premature ovarian failure.

Treatments such as hormone replacement therapy can provide valuable relief from symptoms while also reducing the risk of longer-term hormone-related health problems. Healthcare experts also advocate adjustments to lifestyle, such as eating well, exercising and investing time in activities that support mental wellbeing.

Support in the workplace

Within the workplace, menopause campaigners are calling on employers to accommodate adjustments to working patterns and working environments for those affected, providing them with greater flexibility to manage the impact of physical and emotional symptoms. At a more fundamental level, there is a call for better education around the subject, ensuring colleagues develop a better understanding and that managers are equipped with the skills to support potentially sensitive conversations.

There is some evidence that business leaders are listening to this growing noise and building more menopause-confident workplaces. Indeed, a poll from Acas, the employment organisation, found that almost half (46%) of employers felt they were very or fairly well-equipped to support women going through the menopause in the workplace.

That said, a third of companies reported feeling ‘not that well-equipped’ or ‘not at all equipped’. Furthermore, in a separate YouGov survey commissioned by law firm Irwin Mitchell, three-quarters (72%) of HR professionals admitted they do not have a menopause policy in place and less than a fifth (18%) said they provide information about the menopause to their employees.

Failure to close this gap will no doubt continue to result in menopausal workers being forced either to take time off or even to quit. Worse still, it could contribute to a continued rise in menopause-related employment tribunal claims, which Acas says commonly reference “disparaging comments made by managers and colleagues, a failure to make reasonable adjustments or unfair dismissal”.

The flipside of this coin is the many positive initiatives employers are adopting, such as working towards Menopause Friendly accreditation and signing up to the Menopause Workplace Pledge. As well as improving training and communication, initiatives that companies have implemented include financing HRT, eliminating menopause-related time off from absence calculations, introducing menopause-friendly uniforms, and opening virtual cafés where colleagues can talk.

As a natural part of the ageing process, it feels unnatural that it has taken so long for such measures to be considered and that support for those experiencing the menopause has been so limited to date. Addressing the subject through more open conversations in future can only help encourage more inclusive workplaces, and help create teams that are more valued, more fulfilled and more productive.


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