Written by Kate Usher, Founder of Second Phase
Menopause is a fact of life for all women. Until recently Menopause was relegated to the shadows as a ‘women’s problem’. But, with the increase in numbers of women in the workplace and many of them in senior positions, Menopause is the coming issue that many organisations are still yet to fully recognise.
Why Menopause is an issue
Women over the age of 50 are the fastest growing demographic in the UK workforce. The government published figures last year that stated that there are now 1.9 million more women in employment than there were 10 years ago. By 2030 there will be 1.2 billion Menopausal and post-Menopausal women in the world, that’s 15% of the world’s population. This will increase by 47 million every year thereafter.
Menopause is a fact of female life that can no longer be ignored
One of the reasons employers have been reticent to tackle this issue is the level of variability. It is as unique as a woman’s fingerprint. There are a wide range of symptoms, of which a woman may have one or many, their impact ranges from mildly irritating to utterly debilitating, and can last for on average four to eight years, however 10 years plus is not unusual. All this makes a standardised approach impossible.
There are two issues here for employers: firstly, Wellbeing. There is nothing else within the wellbeing sphere that directly affects 50% of the population, and because women can’t leave their symptoms at the security gate, affects the remaining 50% indirectly. There are ways that organisations can support their female staff without large financial investment, it takes awareness, empathy and consistency but it can be achieved. To be clear this is more complex than providing women with a desk fan and ticking the proverbial box.
Secondly, Menopause is a diversity and inclusion issue. Not supporting women of Menopausal age -the average is 45 to 55 – can and does lead to many choosing to leave paid employment, whilst many others vote with their feet and choose an employer that does support them, taking their experience, knowledge, network and ability with them. The cost of re-recruitment, training, mentoring and the loss of productivity over the settling-in period are hidden costs, considerable but rarely considered.
How to manage Menopause in the workplace
This doesn’t have to be the case, the first step is always awareness. Awareness of what this phase of life is and how it impacts women. This has to be for all staff, from the post room to the boardroom, men and women. Only then will it remove the stigma and drive a level of empathy that can only be generated, by intelligent group thinking.
It creates a platform for support, where women feel empowered to speak up about their experience and the support they need, without fear of prejudice or a negative impact on their career, now or in the future.
Next is communication. How do you incorporate Menopause into your organisation’s lexicon? This is not a one-off activity. Inclusivity is about making all employees feel welcomed and valued. This requires consistency in your messaging and an intolerance of prejudice, both at an individual and group level.
Transparency and visibility are critical. As with all policies and guidelines, both your female staff and management, need to know how and where to find information about what adjustments are available, and how women might access them. Managers need support through this process, whether they are male or female. They are discussing a subject that was a taboo until recently. Many fear what they might be called on to talk about, and that emotions may be heightened. Expecting managers to simply know what to do, is unrealistic. For many this ranks above the dreaded ‘B.O.’ conversation.
Lastly there comes adjustments. Flexible working is something that women have struggled to attain, whether it be for caring or childcare duties or Menopause. Following on from our third national lockdown, there is no reason why most organisations should not be offering true flexible working as a standard part of their employment package. There are numerous symptoms including sleep issues and depression that flexible working would ease.
When we do return to the office, a quiet place where women can go to gather themselves, before returning to their desk is important. Many symptoms benefit from this, including hot flushes, anxiety, panic attacks as well as mood swings. To be clear this is not the multifaith room, the first aid room, the stock room or the basement amongst the dusty dog-eared files and old computer cables.
A private space for women to freshen up helps those with hot flushes and flooding. These should be well stocked with sanitary ware and have sufficient locker space for women to store a spare set of clothes.
There is always the ubiquitous desk fan of course, which is to Menopause what the free apple is to wellness week. They are essential and extremely welcome to those suffering with hot flushes. Not every woman gets them and they are completely useless when it comes to cold flushes.
Supporting women through this phase of life benefits not only the women themselves but the organisation as a whole. More importantly than this though is it’s simply the right thing to do.