World Menopause Day 2019: How to support women in the workplace

We explore how menopause affects women in the workplace and what you can do to help shake the stigma.

BrightHR Team

You probably don’t hear the word ‘menopause’ much. The conversation is pretty open when it comes to feminism and gender equality, but the world’s still shy when it comes to talking periods and the menopause.

But ‘the change’ is changing. With MPs pushing for new workplace policies and awareness events like World Menopause Day, people are finally starting to speak out.

And here at BrightHR, we’re behind them all the way. So let’s shake the stigma around the menopause and start stepping up to support women in the workplace…

What is the menopause?

The menopause is a natural part of the female life cycle. It usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline and she stops having periods.

In the UK, the average age a woman reaches menopause is 51, but around one in 100 women experience the menopause before the age of 40.

The length of the menopause also varies. Symptoms typically last around four years, but around one in 10 women experience them for up to as much as 12 years.

And what are the symptoms?

80% of menopausal women experience symptoms. Hot flushes are the hot topic, but it doesn’t stop there. The most common symptoms include:

  • Night sweats
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Joint stiffness and pain

How does it affect women at work?

The stats are serious. In one report, 94% of women who’d been through the menopause said it had a negative impact on their work. Just over half had taken time off sick. And one in 10 had missed more than eight weeks of work because of their symptoms.

And another 2019 report by Health & Her found that 370,000 UK women had left work or were considering leaving work because they were struggling to deal with menopause symptoms.

But despite it affecting so many women, almost 50% of employees who’ve taken time off for menopause symptoms haven’t felt comfortable telling their boss the real reason why they’re not in work…

So, why aren’t people speaking up?

It comes down to taboo. Dr Rebecca Lewis, a GP at Newson Health, says: “Women are suffering quietly for fear of saying ‘it’s the menopause’ and being laughed at and told to get on with it.”

And Sue Hackett, an equality officer at GMB Union, says women are afraid of being unfairly penalised, “because of key symptoms like memory loss or lack of concentration.”

But people are starting to push for positive changes. Labour MP Carolyn Harris is fighting for menopause policies to be introduced to the workplace. She says:

“You wouldn’t dream of having a workplace where people weren’t entitled to certain things because they were pregnant, and it’s exactly the same for women with the menopause. I firmly believe there should be legislation to make sure every workplace has a menopause policy, just like they have a maternity policy.”

What employers can do now

While it’s fantastic to see that people are championing change, we don’t need to wait for workplace policies to start showing our support to women in the workplace.

Here are five ways you can help employees who are going through the menopause right now:

1. Offer flexible working

Flexitime, including late starts and early finishes, can be helpful for scheduling medical appointments or dealing with disturbed sleep. Allowing employees to work from home can also help support more uncomfortable or ‘embarrassing’ problems.

2. Set up ‘safe spaces’

In 2017, Nottinghamshire police introduced a menopause policy at work. It included providing access to private rooms where women could ‘rest temporarily, cry or talk with a colleague before they return to their workspace’.

Even just the knowledge there is somewhere private at work can help women to feel safe and supported if they’re overwhelmed with their symptoms.

3. Keep it cool

Simple changes can make a big difference when it comes to managing hot flushes. You could introduce cool or warm areas of your workplace. Allow desk fans. Provide access to cold drinking water. And allow people to adjust their uniforms if it will make them feel more comfortable.

4. Shake the stigma

Openly supporting awareness campaigns like World Menopause Day is great way to show your staff you understand how important the issue is. And make sure they know you’re always there if they need to talk about anything they’re going through.

5. Invest in your people

You could also use an EAP (employee assistance programme) like Bright Wellbeing & Counselling. It’s a service that gives your staff access to a range of confidential and compassionate advice and support, including a 24-hour helpline and face-to-face counselling. So they always have somewhere to turn to and someone to talk to, any time, any place.

To find out more about Bright Wellbeing & Counselling, speak to one of our friendly experts today. Call 0800 783 2806.