With October being Menopause Awareness Month which incorporates World Menopause Day on October 18th, we thought it was the right time to update our insight on menopause in the workplace.
Since we published our original article, the UK government have decided that they will not be making menopause a protected characteristic. The accompanying report explains that the rationale for this decision is that with; sex, age and disability already part of the equality act, these protected characteristics should sufficiently safeguard the treatment of those going through menopause.
While some may not agree, the report goes on to say:
If more women remained in work and worked for longer, retaining higher paid roles, it could result in benefits to our economy and society.
This suggests that those in charge of the decision-making process are hopefully still fully invested in change and equity for menopausal women.
In light of the government’s decision, rather than using it as an excuse to back away from the issue, perhaps organisations should now take it upon themselves to put even more effort into tackling prejudice and stigma around menopause in the workplace as part of their D,E&I policies to ensure that no negative message is taken from the outcome of the report.
To encourage conversation and awareness, many companies are already engaging in activities to support this year’s World Menopause Day theme around ‘cognition and mood’, with a particular focus on what is commonly known as ‘menopause brain fog’ which can include symptoms of memory lapses and difficulty concentrating. For anyone wondering how their business can get involved, workplace well-being specialists at Champion Health have created guidance for employers with resources and ideas for activities to support menopause awareness.
So hopefully, the excellent work already being carried out towards removing the stigma associated with menopause will continue, and there will be increasing support and understanding at work for those suffering the effects, allowing them to remain in their roles for as long as they wish.
Over the last decade, HR strategies for diversity, equity and inclusion have evolved rapidly, with the vast majority of companies recognising the need for compassion and understanding when it comes to personal matters such as pregnancy, parental leave, mental and physical health conditions and bereavement. Many organisations in 2022 offer robust support packages to accommodate the time off or flexibility needed in each of these circumstances, which is now considered standard practice.
However, there remains one subject that is seldom discussed or addressed in the workplace, and that is Menopause. But things are starting to change.
Recent research shows that women over fifty are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace, but around 900,000 women have quit their jobs due to Menopause, and one in three women have missed work due to menopause symptoms. These symptoms can include hot flushes, low mood, anxiety and problems with memory, all of which can affect an individual's productivity, confidence or ability to do their job.
However, partly due to a lack of awareness and partly due to the stigma surrounding Menopause, it has never been a topic that is openly discussed in the work environment. Only around 11% of women ask for workplace adjustments to cope with their symptoms, and 26% state that they don't speak up about it as they are "worried about the reaction of others".
As the number of women going through this transitional time while at work increases, it is vital for businesses to review the support they offer women during Menopause and perhaps align it with what employees have come to expect as a standard offering for other types of health-related support.
Couple this with the emphasis that companies are now placing on D,E&I in general to attract and retain the best employees and investors, and it is evident why this issue has suddenly come to the fore.
The good news is that the need for action has not gone unnoticed, and some big names are getting involved, including BUPA and Hello magazine. Both are supporting a new initiative created by women's health charity, Wellbeing of Women, called the Menopause Workplace Pledge. Five hundred companies have already signed up to support the campaign, including major banks, leading UK supermarkets and Channel 4.
The main objective is to raise awareness so that women know they can and should be fully supported at work during Menopause, and it calls upon employers to sign the pledge to show they back the cause and that they will introduce policies to address the current lack of provision.
Some companies are leading the way, such as online fashion retailer ASOS, which recently implemented a policy that allows for flexible working during Menopause and the option to take leave at short notice for those experiencing symptoms.
The issue has become such a 'hot topic' in the past few months that it has reached Parliament. The government have created a 'Menopause Taskforce' as part of their Women's Health Plan, which had its first meeting in February 2022, with MPs calling on businesses to better support women experiencing menopausal symptoms by ensuring treatments are accessible and reducing stigma. This comes from a government-commissioned report from November last year, which recommended that businesses communicate the importance of Menopause awareness to line managers and suggested organisations should appoint 'Menopause Champions' to ensure a discrete and knowledgeable point of contact is always available.
HR people strategies now need to start to include policies for Menopause, and it could be that new laws are introduced to protect menopausal women from further discrimination. The Women and Equalities Committee is currently conducting an inquiry to investigate whether existing legal protections are fit for purpose and if it should be mandatory for businesses to have a specific Menopause policy. New legislation could require all companies to implement menopause-related policies as part of their D,E&I suite.
All of this proposed action will finally give women approaching or going through Menopause the reassurance and support they need to know that they can successfully continue in their professional lives on an equal footing to those around them.
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