Employers would benefit as well as their staff if they introduced adaptable policies that supported the needs of women going through the menopause, according to the minister for women and equalities.
Discussing menopause training and information in the workplace during a House of Commons debate, Victoria Atkins emphasised the important role employers play in supporting women.
A report published earlier this week by Public Health England found that 31 per cent of women experienced severe reproductive health problems, such as those associated with the menopause, at some stage.
The report emphasised the need to “address environmental factors such as the workplace and society that impact on reproductive health to positively support women”.
“We now know that the employment rate of older women, aged 50 to 64, has risen more than any other age group since 2010,” said Atkins. “With more women over the age of 50 remaining in work, more women will experience the symptoms of menopause while at work, and so it is in employers’ interests to ensure that they have policies that adapt.”
A University of Leicester study into the effects of menopause transition on women’s economic participation in the UK found that “many women tend to feel that they need to cope alone”.
Professor Joanna Brewis, part of the team behind the study, told People Management that she hoped to see companies begin implementing more practical policies around the issue.
“Because every woman's menopause experience is different, employers should introduce what I call a ‘cafeteria’ of approaches to support women who have problematic symptoms,” she said. “This way, they can select the options that work for them.”
Her suggestions included environmental changes such as USB desk fans, access to cold drinking water and alternative uniforms or workwear, as well as specialist advice or counselling from occupational health departments or an employee assistance programme.
Flexible work arrangements were also key to supporting women through the menopause, Brewis added – everyone who has worked for the same employer for 26 weeks has a legal right to request these.
“All these approaches need to be underpinned by a culture in which women feel able to speak up about their symptoms and ask for the support they need from managers and colleagues,” she said.
Responding to a question from Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, Atkins said making menopause policies a statutory requirement was “part of our changing expectations of employers”.
Acknowledging that the menopause can be a difficult subject to talk about, Jenny Lincoln, age research and policy manager at Business in the Community, said employers needed to address the issue now to “continue to benefit from the wealth of skills, talent and experience their older employees have to offer”.
“For too long the menopause has been a taboo subject at work,” added Scarlet Harris, TUC women’s officer. “Women have been forced to suffer in silence and some have even faced disciplinary action for being off sick because of the menopause.
“Unions are doing all they can to stop this from happening. We have successfully negotiated workplace policies that ensure women aren’t penalised for going through the menopause and that deal with issues ranging from uniforms to toilet breaks to workplace temperature.
“It’s vital that women workers feel able to have honest discussions about their symptoms and their needs without fear of repercussions.”