Menopause at Work: From Silent Taboo to Crucial Diversity Frontier

Thu 05 Dec 2019

Menopause at Work: From Silent Taboo to Crucial Diversity Frontier

Menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in UK workplaces, which is a fact worth heeding. Menopause affects 50% of the working population for between 4 and 12 years of their working lives and, unlike in previous generations, approximately one third of working life is now remaining once menopause passes. Few workplaces are unaffected, and thus in order for the retention, performance and wellbeing of menopausal staff to be optimised, employers must learn how best to address menopause at work. ‘Supporting Menopause in the Workplace’, one of our Diverse Workforce Series events, took place last week and was designed to educate line managers and HR professionals in how to achieve just that.

Over the course of the day-long event, a variety of speakers from the Civil Service and the public and private sectors shared their knowledge of the menopause itself, the effects that menopause can have on individuals and in workplaces, and practical advice in adapting workplace policy and practice to adequately facilitate menopausal staff.

Speakers and attendees alike remarked on the lack of education around the menopause, which was the first issue to be tackled by Rachel Suff from the CIPD, Acas’ Gill Dix and Sarah Davies from Talking Menopause. Sarah Davies revealed that there are up to eighty symptoms of the menopause. However, 66% of menopausal women are prescribed anti-depressants, as GPs lack formal training and are often at odds as to how to treat or even diagnose it. Symptoms can be both physical and psychological. Rachel Suff recently conducted a study of 1,400 working women, which demonstrated that the most common symptoms of menopause were hot flushes (72%), sleep disturbances (64%) and night sweats (58%). Other significant symptoms, such as bleeding, anxiety, depression and a reduction in confidence and concentration, were also widespread. 6/10 participants considered their menopausal symptoms to have had a negative impact on their relationship with their work.

However, another important finding of the CIPD study was that when staff were offered support by their employers and workplaces, their loyalty and commitment to, and positivity about, their workplaces was evident. ‘A little bit of flexibility can go a long way’ was a conclusion which Suff impressed upon attendees; simple measures such as a desk fan, starting and finishing work a little later after a sleepless night or taking comfort breaks where needed can make all the difference.

In this context, the Employers’ Duty of Care is important to bear in mind, as is the Equality Act 2010. Gill Dix pointed out that there have been cases where workplaces have been taken to court for failing to cater to staff wellbeing. Under the Equality Act 2010, some employers have been found to have discriminated on the grounds of sex, disability or age in the context of menopause or perimenopause. Trans people can also experience menopausal symptoms during transition, and their rights would be covered by the same legislation. Men undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, as well as women undergoing IVF, can also experience symptoms. Fostering a culture of disclosure and understanding is therefore crucial from a legal as well as a wellbeing perspective.

Managers and leaders have vital roles in facilitating such disclosure and understanding. According to Julie Dennis, a Menopause at Work trainer, the key tasks for managers are to be open to conversation; to support and signpost staff on the way to finding solutions; to be familiar with related internal policies (mental health being one such example); to consider reasonable adjustments; and to refrain from making assumptions. Dennis provided tips and best practice for ‘confident conversations’, as well as for reasonable adjustments. The experience and symptoms of menopause differ substantially from person to person, and thus there cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach by managers; instead, they must learn to listen and to act in accordance with precedent and internal policies, tailoring their response to each individual and working to find a solution with their member of staff. As Suff had outlined, Dennis was emphatic that the necessary adjustments are often relatively simple, once managers are determined to engage.

Karen Canner and Sandra Marcantonio from the Ministry of Justice’s SWIM network (Supporting Workplace in Menopause) were the final speakers of the day. The success of their network and the engagement which it has received confirms a widespread need for education and conversation in workplaces around the menopause. SWIM was set up with the objective of including everyone; employers, employees, women, men, and line managers alike. A central part of the network’s engagement and activity stems from the collections of resources which they circulate in newsletter form on a regular basis, which is hugely popular. They have received several awards, and their page receives the most engagement of any page on the Ministry of Justice’s intranet. SWIM have contributed to cross-government toolkits and resources on menopause, providing vital education for managers and employees alike.

Sandra Marcantonio reminded delegates of the cost of fighting court cases, and of hiring and retraining staff – approximately £30,000 for someone on a £25,000 salary. The DWP estimate that vacancies will soon outnumber school leavers two-fold. Again, the business case for supporting menopause at work was made clear. The most potent message and understanding which emerged over the course of the ‘Supporting Menopause in the Workplace’ event was that education and a desire to discuss and support ultimately make the difference between menopausal employees remaining in work, and staying engaged and motivated, or menopause spelling career jeopardy for individuals and staff turnover for organisations.

Similarly to mental health — or previously with maternity provisions — education, normalisation and conversation, in conjunction with supportive frameworks, are vital in order for progress in this area to occur. As Rachel Suff’s research outlined, accommodations from management do not go unnoticed or unappreciated, and the success of the SWIM network demonstrates how constructive and wide-ranging engagement around this previously ‘taboo’ topic can be. The benefits of creating a menopause-aware and supportive workplace are evident. It is now time for more companies to follow in their footsteps and reap the rewards for their workplaces.

Our next 'Supporting Menopause at Work’ event will take place online on Tuesday, 8th December 2020. For more information, please visit the event page here:,supporting-menopause-at-work_184.htm

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