Let’s talk about the menopause
Too many workplaces continue to be unsupportive and alienating to women experiencing the menopause. More needs to be done.
In this blog, our Evidence Officer, Amy McSweeney, says that the impact of the menopause is still largely unconsidered in the workplace and more needs to be done to raise awareness of this issue.
Recently, the CIPD hosted an event called ‘Menopause at Work’, which outlined the case for supporting menopausal transition at work and the importance of creating an inclusive environment for mid-later life working women. Whilst this event was a positive step for this issue, much more needs to be done to understand the impact the menopause has on women’s health.
More than two million more women were employed in 2019-20 than in 2004-05, with 70% of that growth coming from women aged over 50. As it stands, there are nearly five million women aged over 50 in the workforce. With women in this age group more likely to be carers and more likely to be in poor health than their male counterparts, it's great that some employers are taking steps to become more inclusive, such as adopting the ‘age-friendly five and inclusive recruitment principles. But our research has found that these employers are in the minority – few think of ageism as a problem within their organisations, meaning they are unlikely to take steps to change their workplace culture.
Not acknowledging ageism and its impact in the workplace can make it more difficult for older workers to talk about problems at work. For example, the menopause continues to be an issue that is largely ignored, despite impacting the majority of women over 50. Nearly eight out of 10 menopausal women are in work and a survey found that one in four considered leaving work due to severe symptoms. Hot flushes, fatigue and problems with concentration can have a real and lasting impact on women’s working lives. For women with existing health conditions, the menopause can worsen symptoms such as fatigue and brain ‘fog’.
Menopause symptoms can last from four to 12 years, impacting people from all walks of life, across all industries, and yet most women feel they cannot discuss the menopause at work.
The physical environment and job requirements can also have a detrimental impact on people who are menopausal. The British Medical Association recently drew attention to the impact of the menopause on medical professionals – in particular the difficulty of wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), now an everyday requirement for many who work in health and social care, the majority of whom are women. For women with symptoms of the menopause, wearing ill-fitting PPE, for 12-hour shifts is a barrier to them doing their job. PPE that has not been designed with women’s bodies in mind can exacerbate menopause symptoms, such as heat stress and hot flushes.
Most employers are aware of their responsibilities in making adjustments that enable people with additional health needs or caring duties to do their jobs effectively, and the same principle needs to be applied to people who are experiencing the menopause. In terms of managing symptoms, adjustments to workplaces – such as the addition of fans, improving ventilation, manufacturing more inclusive equipment and providing options around flexible working – can help.
However, these changes cannot be implemented without workplace culture changing to be more inclusive. Whilst there are many examples of conversations being started around the menopause, especially in the public sector, change is not happening fast enough.
Menopause symptoms can last from four to 12 years, impacting people from all walks of life, across all industries, and yet most women feel they cannot discuss the menopause at work. Menopausal symptoms can lead to embarrassment for working women or even negatively affect their mental health. A report by Better for Women found that 44% of menopausal women felt that there had been a detrimental impact on their mental health. Other research has found that many employees do not want to disclose their difficulties to their line manager or within the wider organisation, especially if they are male or younger, in case they do not understand or are unsympathetic.
Raising awareness of the menopause generally – not just amongst women – is crucial to reducing stigma. By developing a broader understanding of the impact it can have, employers can harness all of the talents of employees approaching later life.