Why a menopause policy isn’t the answer

Rather than creating a blanket document, employers should provide practical support and create an open culture for those experiencing symptoms, says Julie Dennis 

Menopause is trending. From telecom giants to SMEs, every week heralds the launch of a new company menopause policy. We even had the promise of a “world-leading menopause policy” from Sadiq Khan during his recent mayoral electoral campaign. But a menopause policy isn’t currently a legal requirement so why are organisations creating them?

Risk and retention

With one in four of the five million people working through menopause considering leaving work because of the severity of symptoms, the risk for business is huge in terms of loss of talent, knowledge and experience. A policy is seen as a way to prevent the exit of valued staff alongside protecting the organisation itself. 

Communication and engagement

Workplace policies are a useful tool to communicate with employees and provide clarity around particular issues. They establish boundaries and best practice, outlining what employees can expect from their employer and equally the behaviours an employer expects from employees with regards to sensitive topics like menopause.

Reputation and recognition

A press story celebrating your menopause policy launch sets you apart as a forward-thinking, inclusive employer where current and future talent can thrive through all career stages.

However, what a menopause policy doesn’t do is provide practical support, change beliefs or enhance performance. Research consistently shows that the majority of people aren’t comfortable talking to their manager about menopause. A menopause policy isn’t going to change that either. In fact, writing the policy is the easy part – implementing and embedding a meaningful menopause programme takes long term commitment, investment, resources and understanding.

In my experience, those organisations which have the most success in creating a positive and inclusive environment where it’s ok to talk about menopause rarely start the conversation with a menopause policy. Instead:

  • Engage with your stakeholders at the start to ensure you deliver what people actually need so that everyone can continue to work to the best of their ability.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of sharing stories and experiences to create a sense of belonging and to normalise the topic.
  • Run collaborative and educational sessions for managers to reduce knowledge gaps, meet legal requirements and reduce any feelings of awkwardness.
  • Provide support for all staff, not just those experiencing symptoms. Living with someone who’s not sleeping, battling brain fog, and wants all the windows open when you want them closed has a significant impact too.
  • Consider a guidance document rather than policy that can be revised quickly to respond to updated thinking and work patterns such as a post-Covid shift to a blended working approach.
  • Measure from the outset to track successes and identify areas for improvement. Are the menopause tools, resources, network and training opportunities you’re offering appropriate for all staff whatever their role, gender or beliefs?

Menopause policies are useful to provide a framework and point of reference, but the reality is they rarely get read and don’t allow you to respond swiftly to change. Post pandemic, some people will be thrilled to get back to the workplace, while others will be more anxious – especially those who’ve been better able to manage menopause symptoms from home.

This means that some individuals experiencing menopause symptoms will come back to the office with worsened physical symptoms and higher levels of emotional stress inevitably resulting in challenges interacting with colleagues and clients. So rather than focusing on policy, ask yourself where and how menopause sits in your company’s return to work planning framework.

So yes, it’s great that organisations want to generate engagement, support staff and improve retention with regards to menopause and work – I’m all in favour of that. But I’m also in favour of them taking a strategic approach and creating a return to work environment where everybody’s voice is heard.

Julie Dennis is director of Menopause at Work