The 18th October is World Menopause Day. Where did that come from and why is everyone suddenly talking about Menopause at work?
Menopause has long been one of those ‘taboo’ subjects. With this comes a stigma, where no one talks about it and therefore there is a lot of misunderstanding, even amongst women, about the topic. Gradually, society is opening up the conversation about ‘difficult’ subjects such as this, and employers are increasingly conscious about the wellbeing of their workforce to ensure they continue to benefit from and retain the experience and talent of their employees.
What is the Menopause, really?
Women generally reach Menopause in their early 50s, however the symptoms of Menopause often start up to eight years earlier, during what’s known as the Perimenopause. Early Menopause can also occur for some women in their 30s and 40s and others experience an early Menopause due to medical treatments. It is estimated that there are 3 ½ million women over the age of 50 currently in work (a rise of more than 50 per cent in the last 30 years) and this number is increasing. If we add in Perimenopause and early Menopause, that’s a lot of women experiencing what can be very significant symptoms.
How does the Menopause Impact Working Life?
Not all women will experience all of the symptoms of Menopause, but 1 in 4 will experience them to the degree that they become debilitating. These symptoms can range from hot flushes and extreme sweating to sleeplessness, tiredness, palpitations, heightened emotions and mood swings, inability to concentrate, memory problems, need to use the toilet frequently alongside many more. Some women will also experience depression and anxiety for the first time in their lives. So, the symptoms can have a long-term significant effect upon work and everyday activities.
Women often find the symptoms embarrassing and worry that they may be deemed to no longer be as capable in their jobs if they voice their concerns, so frequently keep quiet or give other reasons for feeling unwell. It’s therefore key that employers educate managers to recognise the impacts and implications of this and look at ways to encourage openness and be supportive.
Many GPs still have a very limited knowledge of Menopause and the management of symptoms. Hormone treatments, lifestyle changes and certain therapies can help but may not be suitable or provide sufficient relief for all women and so women may find themselves in a position of having to just ‘manage as best as they can’ at work.
What can, or should employers be doing?
If budget allows, then there are a number of excellent seminars available to educate employees and line managers.
Developing a Menopause policy to guide your managers, highlight simple adjustments that may be appropriate and give reassurance to employees that you are supportive is cost effective. It does, however, require some effort from you to make the policy live and breathe, rather than it just be a document sat in a drawer or on your intranet.
If you would like a copy of a template policy to adapt for your organisation and start the ball rolling, you can download one here.
At the very least, encouraging women to be open about their symptoms and needs, and making sure that managers are open to listening and acting upon this will go a long way to enabling women to remain working and continue to be effective in their roles.