World Menopause Day is today (18 October) and, according to an exclusive People Management poll, just under half (45 per cent) of employees do not feel supported in discussing their menopausal symptoms at work, while 40 per cent say they do. A further 15 per cent indicated they were unsure.
At the same time, workplace health provider RedArc reported a significant increase in requests for menopause support over the last year, with many women looking for advice on managing symptoms.
Separately, research suggests there is still a general lack of information and comprehension about menopause, with a study by Perspectus Global and DAPS finding that 19 per cent of adults (a quarter of men and 12 per cent of women) report not knowing anything about menopause.
How HR can help
Debra Clark, head of wellbeing at independent health adviser Towergate Health & Protection, says that while menopause is now being discussed more openly in the workplace, more could be done to introduce specific support. She adds that education and making employees aware of the symptoms and issues associated with menopause could be a “good starting point”.
Clark says it is important, however, for employers to consider including “younger women and men” who may not be directly affected by menopause in any “communication” or “educational sessions” so that they have a greater understanding and can be more supportive of colleagues.
Deborah Garlick, CEO of Henpicked: Menopause In the Workplace, agrees, adding that education and awareness are critical because many people initially fail to recognise their perimenopause symptoms as what they are, causing them to struggle through menopause “unnecessarily”.
She also says education and training are critical in helping managers, HR teams and employees understand what their colleagues may be going through and how to help them. "Learning how to start and have a conversation around managing menopause in the workplace is fundamental to any menopause-friendly employer strategy," she says.
Is the support already there?
However, according to Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, businesses may well have more support for menopause than they realise. “If employers do a deep dive into their existing employee benefits, they may well find that they can create a suite of support for their employees affected by menopause within the benefits they already offer,” she says.
“Not only does this mean they won’t incur any additional costs, but by promoting the support they already have in place they are likely to see engagement and utilisation improve too.”
Christine Husbands, managing director of RedArc, says menopausal awareness is greater than it has ever been, which can only be a “good thing for women, many of whom had previously suffered their symptoms in silence or embarrassment”.
However, she notes that the growing need for information, remedies and solutions has resulted in certain “misinformation and myths circulating on the internet among women themselves and via other experts”.
Do not delegate ‘women’s problems’ to HR
HR operations and change expert Carolyn Hobdey says the first rule for creating a menopause-friendly workplace is “not to delegate responsibilities to HR”.
She says: “They can – and should – support any initiative and indeed will likely be the instigators of it, but taking ‘women’s problems’ and placing them with the HR function (typically women heavy in terms of employees) misses the point of highlighting this issue.”
Hobdey suggests appointing a senior sponsor, preferably one who is not female, so that the “importance of all genders understanding menopause and creating an environment where it can be openly discussed is set as a tone from the top.
“In practical terms, signing up to the Menopause Workplace Pledge is a good starting point to signify the business intentions to employees, clients and customers, but beyond that on-the-ground action is required.”
She says education is key and that if we are going to “normalise” the conversation around anything, including menopause, then talking about it is “essential”.
More advice for HR professionals
Dr Robyn Cohen, women's health expert at HCA Healthcare, says the first step for businesses is to make the menopause visible in their HR policy: "What this looks like in practice is implementing menopause action plans and outlining supportive routes into menopause healthcare as standard."
However, Cohen says employers should recognise that menopause is not a “gender issue”, but rather a health and wellness topic that affects the entire workforce. It should not be separated in HR policy as something that only affects women, but as an organisation issue.
She also notes that women should be encouraged to seek help for managing their symptoms and should be made aware of the resources available to them, as “unfortunately not all doctors are confident in managing the menopause and many are not up to date with current safe treatment practices”.
This comes as an all party parliamentary group on menopause recommends that women over the age of 40 be offered a “menopause health check” by GPs.
According to a new study from Royal London, half of women going through menopause are considering leaving their jobs.
In addition, eight in 10 (82 per cent) indicated they would be more likely to stay with their current company if they were better supported, yet many were hesitant to address their concerns with line managers.
Separate CIPD research released earlier this month found two thirds (67 per cent) of women who have had menopausal symptoms feel they have had a generally negative influence on them at work.
In the study of 2,185 women in employment aged 40-60 in collaboration with YouGov a quarter (27 per cent) of women in this age category who have experienced menopausal symptoms said the condition has had a negative impact on their career progression. This study represents an estimated 1.2 million people.
Additionally, the report found that a majority of women who experience menopausal symptoms feel less able to concentrate at work (79 per cent) and are more stressed (68 per cent).
Those who felt supported by their employer when experiencing symptoms reported less pressure at work (55 per cent of those who felt unsupported felt an increase in pressure compared to 43 per cent of those who felt supported) and less stress (75 per cent vs 68 per cent).