Menopause - Is it Still a Taboo in the Workplace?
Women are working for longer than ever before. An ever-increasing retirement age, pension shortfalls, and the fact that many people just want to carry on working for as long as they’re able to means that around 3.5 million working women in the UK are over 50, and this will only continue to rise.
But for all the focus on equality in the workplace and policies designed to make women’s lives easier through life events like pregnancy, menopause remains decidedly neglected.
The average age that a woman reaches menopause is 51, though for some women, it can happen earlier because of ovarian failure, an autoimmune condition, or as a result of cancer treatment. It’s known as early or premature menopause if a women is under 45 years old.
Menopause symptoms can be present for up to 10 years, so it’s crucial that women are shown understanding and offered support from their employers.
How does the menopause affect women at work?
Menopausal symptoms range from hot flushes, memory problems, brain fog, low self-esteem, fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and more, so you can imagine how difficult this can make working life. Surveys have found that many women lose their motivation, confidence, and ability to concentrate at work, they’re absent more often, they feel less satisfied by their jobs, and some even consider giving up work completely when they’re experiencing menopause symptoms. If education and understanding around the menopause was improved, women would feel far more supported by their employers, and organisations wouldn’t be at risk of losing valuable talent.
Why is menopause a taboo?
Some women don’t understand what’s happening to them
It’s amazing how many women reach the menopause and have absolutely no idea what to expect. They might have heard vague references about their mother or an aunt ‘going through the change,’ but that’s about it. So when it does come along, women are left feeling very isolated.
Some women aren’t comfortable mentioning it
For some women who’ve smashed through glass ceilings to get where they are today, calling in sick because of their menopause symptoms or talking to a manager about them (especially if they’re male) is just not done. Many women are embarrassed to talk about it, and worry that they’ll appear less competent or effective in their role.
There’s a general lack of education and awareness
Despite the strides made in recent years, there’s still a lot of ignorance and misinformation out there about the menopause. Many male managers and employees aren’t comfortable talking about women’s problems, even when it would be beneficial for them to understand. After all, they work with women, and have partners, mothers, and sisters who will all go through the menopause.
What can employers do to help?
They can increase awareness of the menopause
Menopause is only a taboo subject because of the lack of openness around it. Starting a conversation about the menopause is the first step to breaking the taboo and stopping women from to suffering in silence.
An awareness campaign is a great way for organisations to educate staff about menopausal symptoms and their impact. It can help normalise menopause for everyone, and make women aware of where they can access support, whether it’s through a support group, occupational health, or online resources.
Training should be offered at all levels
Managers should receive training about the menopause as this will increase their skills and confidence in being able to support employees more effectively. If menopause was included in training for employees at all levels, it would help create opportunities for open and honest dialogue around the menopause.
Policies should incorporate the menopause
Whether it’s incorporated into existing policies, or a dedicated policy is created, provision needs to be made for menopausal employees. Any policy should detail what the organisation’s attitude towards the menopause is and reasonable adjustments that should be made, as well as offering guidance for managers.
Sickness policy also needs to take menopause-related absence into account. Often, there is no categorisation for this type of sickness absence, and sickness records can look unfairly poor (i.e. a series of short-term absences) unless they are clearly marked as being attributed to an ongoing health issue.
Reasonable adjustments should be made
Reasonable adjustments to the working environment should be made to reduce the impact of menopausal symptoms. For example, providing desk fans, access to rest areas, controlling room temperature, and offering flexibility around work uniform can reduce the impact of hot flushes for many women. Allowing flexible working for women who struggle with insomnia, or who need to attend regular working appointments can also be helpful.
When it comes to the menopause, however, it’s not one-size-fits-all. Some women will be affected more by menopause symptoms, while some will not be affected much at all. This is why it’s important to encourage a culture of openness where individual employees feel comfortable talking about how they’re coping.
Breaking the menopause taboo will ensure that your organisation is able to both support employees through what can be a tough time, and retain your valuable talent.
What is your organisation doing to start the conversation about menopause?