Despite the thirteen million people who are experiencing perimenopause or menopause in the UK, discussions around menopause still don’t occur often enough in the workplace. Around 75-80% of people who are of a menopausal age are in work – so the need for employers to make themselves part of the menopause conversation is evident.
To support learning and understanding it’s helpful to set out the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’.
What is menopause?
Menopause is when a person’s periods stop due to lower hormone levels and normally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. It can happen earlier if someone has had surgery to remove ovaries or uterus or had chemotherapy, though sometimes it is due to genetics or the reason is unknown. Menopause can be a challenging time for many as they endure symptoms that they have not experienced before and this often begins in perimenopause.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause is a period of transition, which begins before menopause. It is a phase that can last from a few months to 10 years before menopause begins and can be a challenging time for those experiencing the change.
How does perimenopause or menopause affect people?
Each person’s perimenopause or menopause experience will be different. Some people report no symptoms but, many people experience difficult symptoms. These symptoms include irregular menstrual periods (prior to starting menopause), hot flushes, difficulty sleeping, memory problems, mood disturbances, vaginal dryness and weight gain.
How does this affect people in the workplace?
Perimenopause and menopause pose challenges in the workplace for those experiencing it, with six out of ten reporting that the symptoms affect them negatively*.
The first challenge is the discomfort and sometimes, embarrassment that the symptoms can lead to.
The second challenge is stigma associated with perimenopause and menopause. Although many workplaces have made strides in the discussion around wellbeing and health, people often feel unable to speak about the menopause with their manager or colleagues, especially if those co-workers are not experiencing the menopause or never will.
A third challenge is the mental symptoms of the menopause, which can include mood swings, brain fog and staff worrying about not being able to work like they did before they experienced the menopause. For some people, experiencing menopause is the first time in their lives where they have struggled with their mental health and are unsure how to deal with anxiety, depression or low self-esteem.
How does this affect your business?
According to research by menopause specialists, Health & Her, 10% of women leave the workforce due to menopause. Also, one in four consider leaving. Given the age at which menopause can typically occur, it is likely this will impact some of your talented, experienced staff.
Staff retention, particularly skilled experienced staff, is often vital to business success. Losing staff at this stage could be detrimental to your business, not only the cost of recruiting and training new team members but a loss of key knowledge and experience in any business can have major setbacks.
Fortunately, there are things an organisation can do to support staff experiencing menopause.
The Equality Act and Menopause
While menopause and perimenopause are not specifically protected under the Equality Act, if workers are treated unfairly by their employer, because of their menopause or perimenopause experiences, this could amount to discrimination.
Many professionals that work with FairPlay Employer ask us how they can accommodate their staff experiencing menopause to ensure that they are catered for and supported.
Simple steps, powerful outcomes – what businesses do to make sure there is full support in the workplace.
Employers should discuss any requirement for adjustment with their employees. This should be kept under regular review during their employment, considering changes in duties, role or conditions.
Reasonable adjustments that could be made include providing additional uniforms, a desk fan, introducing agile working practices, allowing employees to work from home where possible and to attend appointments. It is important to support individuals on a case-by-case basis, as not everyone experiences perimenopause or menopause in the same way.
Employers should upskill managers of all genders on how to support employees experiencing perimenopause and menopause to make reasonable adjustments and create a supportive environment where these issues can be discussed openly.
Exploring the possibility of adding menopause support to an organisation’s wellbeing strategy is a positive step as is appointing menopause champions who can provide support to employees.