I am writing this blog today with various viewpoints to the topic of menopause. I entitled it “menopause and me” as I am in the midst of the menopause, however I am also writing this as an HR professional and a manager.
Menopause is one of those topics that, until relatively recently, was not often talked about, or if it was then it was with unhelpful jokes such as “women of a certain age” or “menopausal madness”. Thankfully this is now starting to change with key role models such as Davina McCall, Louise Minchin and Zoe Ball openly talking about their experiences. Similarly, forward thinking organisations are really putting work into this area – and with good reason which I will come to later.
So, what is the menopause?
As a non-clinical person, it is basically the transition women go through when hormones change, and periods stop. It can have a huge effect on both physical and mental wellbeing, with up to 30 different symptoms. Some of the most common are night sweats, hot flushes, sleep disturbance and mood changes. On average the menopause lasts for 4 years, but for some it is up to 12 years.
Why am I writing this blog?
The reason is I have been going through the menopause for about a year now, even though I am not in the “usual” age category of 45-55 years old. I had some health problems a few years ago and a combination of the illness and the radioactive treatment has meant my body started the menopause earlier than “normal”. I had been told this may happen, but I still found it hard to deal with initially and so feel it is important to share that. For me the first sign was very erratic mood swings which I did my best to hide. But those who know me and hopefully still love me, certainly did. The periods of feeling incredibly low for no reason were the worst – until thankfully my GP has supported me with medication so those are a lot less frequent and extreme now.
Why is this important to employers?
In 2021, 57.8% of the UK workforce was women. Women aged over 50 are also the fastest growing group in the workforce. So, in summary, those likely to be going through the menopause are likely to make up a big proportion of your workforce – and therefore may need additional support.
Research carried out by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) found that 59% of women in the age bracket of 45 to 55 who were experiencing the menopause said it had a negative impact on how they’ve been able to perform at work. A Women’s Wellbeing study showed that one in four had even considered leaving work because they weren’t able to go through the menopause and continue doing what they were doing.
All of this means that if left unsupported, organisations are at best having a proportion of the workforce feeling unable to be their best at work, and at worst losing some of their top talent.
What can employers do?
Some of the impacts of the different symptoms of the menopause can be reduced confidence at work, tiredness and then from this, potential loss of concentration and mistakes. The CIPD research mentioned above found that 30% of the women who took part in the survey didn’t feel able to tell their line manager the real reason why they were struggling or needing to take time off. Therefore, one of the main areas is to remove stigma and have a culture where people feel able to talk to managers and colleagues.
Linked to this, is the need to raise awareness for all and particularly managers so they are best able to support. However, awareness for all will help everyone, as it means they can support colleagues and outside of work, family and friends.
A lot of organisations are now putting into place menopause policies, to outline the support available and any reasonable adjustments. This may include access to occupational health as we all know how hard it can be to get access to a GP and most have had very little, if any training on it.
Review your employee assistance programmes (EAP) to check they offer support in this area; at Gateway HR we use the wonderful ‘Everymind at Work’ who have resources in this area.
Be aware that supporting and making adjustments for those who are affected is unlikely to take a ‘one size fits all approach’ as already mentioned, there are over 30 symptoms of the menopause, and every person is different; what may work for one may not work for another.
Finally, whilst this blog focuses on menopause, it is important that employers feel comfortable enough to talk about all periods of hormonal change that employees may go through in the lives. Employers should ensure that individuals are treated according to their circumstances and needs.