The website Menopause in the Workplace has published data from the Office for National Statistics which shows that “menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic”, and that with the rising state pension age, one in three people in the workforce will soon be over 50.
The menopause usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age (although can arrive earlier for some), and in the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51. Symptoms begin in perimenopause, which is the time before menopause (i.e. when periods stop), and on average, most symptoms last around four years, although around one in every 10 women experience them for up to 12 years!
Yet beyond hot flushes, the symptoms of menopause and the effects these can have on people’s lives are not always well known. Whilst some people may experience minimal symptoms, the NHS highlights a wide variety including difficulty sleeping, problems with memory and concentration, headaches, and mood changes (such as low mood or anxiety), amongst others.
A 2017 government report into the effects of the menopause on women at work found that:
“Some aspects of work can make symptoms worse – especially hot or poorly ventilated environments, formal meetings and deadlines. The evidence also paints a consistent picture of women in transition feeling those around them at work are unsympathetic or treat them badly, because of gendered ageism.”
As such, it is important that employers feel equipped to provide appropriate support to employees. Menopause in the Workplace points out that managers do not need to be menopause experts, and it is not the role of a manager to offer medical advice. Awareness of symptoms can be helpful, but not everybody has the same experience of menopause, and so take care not to make assumptions.
If you are concerned about an employee, asking how they are (and asking twice if needed, to show you actually want to know the answer) is a good place to start. There is nothing to be embarrassed about, and from an open conversation, you may be able to identify ways to support an employee. By keeping an open mind, it may be possible to identify adjustments (if appropriate) that would really help them to manage their symptoms and their impact on their working life.
Take care with confidentiality, though – it is up to the employee to decide what they want to tell their colleagues. Announcing that you are adjusting the air conditioning because somebody is having a hot flush would not be appropriate!
If you would like to read more, the CIPD have produced a helpful guidance document for managers, which is available here.
If you are an employer who would like to raise awareness, training from specialist providers is also available (e.g. https://www.nicolagreenconsultancy.co.uk/).
And if you would like to discuss supporting employees from an HR perspective, the ViewHR team are here to help, so please get in touch. We are also hosting a free online event titled ‘Managing Menopause in the Workplace’ to help to break the stigma. Join Heidi Roper (ViewHR) and Nicola Green of Nicola Green Consultancy to discuss how to raise awareness of menopause in the workplace on Friday 14th May at 10am. Sign up for free here.