Almost nine in 10 (88 per cent) women wish their workplace was better set up for the menopause, new research has found.
The report by GenM, based on 405 interviews with male and female jobholders at businesses in the UK, found more than half (52 per cent) of menopausal or post-menopausal women said their employer knew nothing or very little about the menopause, while almost half (48 per cent) felt uncomfortable about discussing the menopause at work.
Only a third (32 per cent) of employees surveyed said they thought there was commercial value in understanding more about the menopause in their specific job role or department.
Heather Jackson, co-founder of GenM, said the results were surprising, given that women were the fastest-growing workplace demographic, and urged more female leaders to speak up about the issue. “It’s important to remember that the menopause can’t be dealt with purely as a workplace issue. The menopause can affect every area of life for those going through it, and it touches every area of business,” she said.
Additionally, only a third (32 per cent) of men surveyed said they had ever had a conversation about the menopause. However, two-thirds (66 per cent) of male employees and 88 per cent of female employees said that knowing about the menopause was fairly or very important in aiding their personal understanding.
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Carolyn Hobdey, personal coach and menopause expert, said the menopause remained a taboo and needed tackling in workplaces. She pointed out that as men make up the majority of senior leaders and corporate decision-makers, they needed to feel more comfortable discussing the topic. “As with any difficult conversation, it is best to start by listening: what do men want to know? What are they concerned about? What do they know and where are the gaps?” she said.
“If we find out where they feel vulnerable – through discussion forums or anonymous surveys – any workplace can begin the process of bringing male and female colleagues together on this matter rather than pitching them as opposing sides.”
Meanwhile, a fifth (20 per cent) of women said they had never had a conversation about the menopause. A third (30 per cent) said they have had a conversation with colleagues at work, and one in five (20 per cent) said they had discussed it with colleagues outside of work.
The majority of both men and women, however, have spoken about the menopause at home (57 per cent and 61 per cent respectively). Just 16 per cent of men have spoken with colleagues about the issue at work, and only 13 per cent have outside of work.
Kate Palmer, director of HR advice and consultancy at Peninsula, said it was possible for men to become part of the conversation; while it may feel unnatural at first, it is helpful for them to show genuine concern and understanding towards affected employees, as they would with other medical conditions.
She said it was advisable to set out clear workplace policies to promote a more inclusive culture. “Clarifying the benefits available to affected individuals or having a designated menopause champion that staff can approach are great first steps,” she said.
Caterina Glenn, manager of the HR division and director of Wade Macdonald, said it was the whole team’s responsibility to open up the conversation, “regardless of gender or rank”, and that business leaders should equip themselves with the right knowledge.
Employers should treat any menopause-related sick leave as they would with other illnesses, she added, and consider how affected employees may miss out on progression opportunities because of inflexible structures.
Reasonable adjustments can also go a long way, but these don’t have to be large, she said: “Alternated workloads adapted to menstruation cycles, mental health support, adequate ventilation and appropriately designed work uniforms are all ways to support female employees’ wishes to do their jobs effectively.”