Menopause for thought

Of all the curveballs life has to throw at us, menopause has to be up there as one of the most challenging. It appears just when you might be sensing a relaxation of the demands of children and your career is reaching new peaks. But since half the population will go through it at some point, why is menopause a taboo topic, or worse, something to be made fun of at work? Timma Marett, of 2to3days considers the impact.

Women are suddenly walloped with hormones that create physical symptoms that can include fiery hot flushes, headaches, insomnia and brain fog. They’re sideswiped by unexpected anxiety, lack of confidence, mood swings and poor concentration. In private, they’re struggling with the impact of weight gain.

So it’s not really a surprise that people try to hide this at work – after all, we’ve worked hard to get to where we’ve got and we don’t want something as inconvenient and personal as the menopause to destablise that progress.

It’s a wobble, but it doesn’t last forever: retain your top talent through it

The Government report, Menopause transition: effects on women’s economic participation, took evidence from 104 publications and found that the negative effects of the menopause on mid-life women’s quality of working life and performance at work include: reduced engagement, job satisfaction and commitment; higher sickness absence and an increased desire to leave work altogether. The study also showed that the menopause can negatively affect women’s time management, emotional resilience and ability to complete tasks effectively.

However, for organisations to retain their top talent (and remember, the menopause does not last forever), they are going to have to be proactive.

What is the state of play for menopausal women in work in 2020?

With 71.9% of women in work according to November 2020 data from the ONS, and a persistent increase in the employment rates of women aged between 50 and 64 to 64.2% (during the past 30 years the employment rate of women aged 50-64 rose by 22.3 percentage points) the issue has to be taken seriously.

A survey published by WiHTL (Women in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure) in October found that 69% of participants said their organisation was not menopause-savvy; 59% worked in a culture that was not supportive of menopause and 52% were unable to speak openly about their symptoms. It’s a concerning read-out.

Why should employers support women with perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms?

The UK Government study on menopause revealed that menopausal women are the fastest growing economic demographic in this country. They must not be sidelined.

Acas (the independent body that works with millions of employers and employees every year to improve workplace relationships) has clear guidance: “It is very much in the interests of an organisation to support workers with perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms in the workplace. As well as being an important health and wellbeing matter, managing menopause in the workplace sensitively and effectively will help an employer retain and recruit skills and experience.”

One in six women in the workplace is over 50. When the average age of reaching menopause is 51 (with symptoms appearing on average four years before that) it’s not an issue to be brushed under the carpet.

How can we manage menopause in the workplace?

Practical solutions and open discussions are key. While 71.2% of women in the WiHTL study felt that their symptoms may impact or have impacted their performance level, a lack of support is leading to women to hide their experiences and needs.

If employers were to monitor the projected age of their workforce, the case for embedding the menopause in the wider health and wellbeing agenda would be apparent.

C-Suite buy-in to organisational culture change that supports compulsory equality and diversity training, menopause-tailored absence policies and flexible work patterns, is essential. Line managers and employees should be trained and empowered to discuss menopause at work. However, It should be viewed no differently to running a maternity leave or bereavement meeting – the line manager does not need to know the personal medical symptoms of menopause to be able to support their valued staff through this challenging time.

Practical steps include offering flexible work schedules to help cope with lack of sleep, desk fans and cold water, access to a quiet room to cope with hot flushes and a flexible approach to uniform.

By creating an inclusive culture, employers will benefit from increased performance and attendance, improved gender parity, and rise in engagement and retention of female talent. 

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Why do companies need to get a grip when it comes to menopause?

Our population is ageing, the retirement age is increasing, and we’re all in work for longer. With fewer new entrants joining the workforce, we need to look after our older workers. But it isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good financial sense too.

The cost of defending an employment tribunal is a whopping £8,500 – excluding the cost of any awards or the claimant’s legal fees if won. The reputational risks alone are not worth it.

Oxford Economics puts a figure of £25,000 on replacing a person who earns £30,000 a year – that includes direct recruitment costs and bringing that new person up to speed. Of course, recruiting through 2to3 days cuts the wheat from the chaff and reduces this cost significantly. 

What do people wish they had known about menopause?

The WiHTL study gives voice to those affected by menopause. Here’s what they had to share:-

“I thought the menopause would consist of hot flushes and mood swings. I did not expect to struggle with confidence (I had always been a confident person), lots of self-doubt and feeling as though I was no longer adding any value.”

“The lack of confidence in my abilities, especially at work (was a shock). I was unable to concentrate and retain information, which impacted my confidence and felt I would not be able to continue in my role. Other colleagues were a few years away from the menopause, so I was unable to speak to anyone.”

So what’s good about menopause at work?

Co-author of The Government Report on Menopause, Dr Andrea Davies said: ‘Menopause and work – it’s a two-way street. Work is good for menopausal women. It contributes far more than just a salary, it can provide fulfilment, self-esteem, identity and social needs too.”

Professor Amanda Griffiths, from the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine, who contributed to the FOM’s menopause guidance is also positive. She said:

“It is good to see that menopause is increasingly being widely recognised as a potential problem and is no longer ‘taboo’. Serious problems only affect a minority of menopausal women, and even then only temporarily. But for those affected it can be very unpleasant. More awareness and some simple changes, many that women themselves have recommended, could make their working lives during this time much easier.”

2to3days is a supportive community where highly skilled women find top quality part-time roles. We excel at connecting businesses directly with highly skilled and motivated women, who want to help power the performance of your business. We believe that flexible working is great for entrepreneurial companies who can access amazing expertise and experience at a cost that works for them, and it’s great for women who want to continue their career whilst accommodating the needs of their family.

Our thanks to 2to3 Days for this article.

2to3days is the UK’s largest online community of highly capable women seeking to pursue their career on a flexible basis. 87% have 10+ years’ experience, 32% have Masters and /or PhD  and 41% have senior management experience.

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