Menopause and Work – Supporting Women in the Workplace
Menopause in the Workplace Introduction
Menopause and Perimenopause can result in a variety of symptoms which can affect women physically like hot flushes, night sweats, aching joints, headaches and skin irritation. There are also symptoms that can affect a woman mentally and emotionally like anxiety, low mood, brain fog, poor focus, poor memory, low self-esteem, and insomnia to name but a few.
The average age of women reaching menopause is 51 and this group have been the fastest growing demographic at the workplace.
There are four compelling cases why employers should consider menopause in the workplace:
1) The Demographic case for Employers
In the early 1900 the average age of menopause was 47 but this was considered an end-of-life event as the average life expectancy was 49. Today things have changed drastically and since women live on average until their mid 80s, this means that a third of their lives is post-menopausal and a good many of those years they are in employment.
More than a third of the workforce will soon be over 50 and the retirement age is now 66 and increasing.
2) The Economic/Business case
Recruitment costs a lot of money. This includes the cost of losing someone with knowledge and experience and employing a new, less experienced person plus the time spent to train them up to speed.
Globally, women who experience the vasomotor symptoms of menopause (hot flushes and night sweats) lose around 60% more work productivity compare with women who don’t have these symptoms. In monetary terms this equates to £100bn a year.
3) The Legal case
In the UK, there are robust laws to protect employees from discrimination at work. The most relevant to menopause is the Equality Act 2010, which three successful tribunals have been based on.
The first case was in 2012 against BT, the second case in early 2019 against the Scottish Courts and Tribunal services, and most recently at the end of 2019 against Bon Marche.
We also have health and safety at work legislation since 1974. This puts a duty of care on employers and failing to look after menopausal women could be argued as breach of this law.
4) The Social Responsibility case
This is basically about doing the right thing. We are still seeing a significant (approx. 18%) gender pay gap, with the biggest gap between men and women in their 50s. The gender pension gap is at a staggering 40%.
Women are a lot less well off when they retire than men. It is therefore reasonable to support women to work as long as they like.
This is not just for the financial security but there is strong evidence that work is a great provider of social support and a source of self-esteem.
Normalising menopause at work and making it unremarkable is the right thing to do. A key comparator is women who are pregnant or have children, which is an ordinary workplace conversation. Women who feel supported are happier and more committed and satisfied.
Summary – now is the time for employers to take action
On the eve of the Covid-19 crisis, employment amongst 50- to 64-year-olds in the U.K. was 73%, the highest since records began in 1975. The number of women has grown almost twice as fast as men, with the female state-pension age raised and more of them working longer to make ends meet after the financial crisis.
Even before the pandemic, menopause was driving some women out of the workforce. Left unsupported, women will be leaving at the peak of their careers, and this will negatively impact productivity of their workplace. Menopause is too often seen as sensitive and private, especially in the workplace when we’re expected to leave our symptoms at the door.
It is still hidden with potentially significant consequences for both employees and employers. Menopause is a normal physiological process every woman will go through.
The terms woman, female, she and her are general. Everyone who goes through menopause will have been assigned the female sex at birth but not everyone who goes through it will still identify as a woman. Transgender and gender non-conforming people may also have this experience.
By talking about it openly, raising awareness and putting the right support in place, we can get to a point where menopause is no longer an issue in the workplace at all.
Dr Laila Kaikavoosi is the Founder and Clinical Director of OMC with extensive experience in women’s health and menopause.