The pandemic has raised the stakes on the stress levels in workplaces across the nation. Organisations are levelling up their wellbeing and support networks. However, there is another rapidly growing issue that needs addressing right now.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of women in employment entering their forties and fifties is rising at a faster rate than any other cohort in the UK. This means that there will be more women in the workplace entering perimenopause than ever before.
You may be asking why this is a ticking time bomb? Perimenopause is the stage ahead of menopause when fluctuating hormone levels can play havoc with women’s physical, emotional and cognitive functions. Symptoms can be severe for many, lasting on average seven years before even reaching the menopause stage. Rebecca Hill, founder of Wise Sherpa and an advisor at Over the Bloody Moon, says her work in this environment has revealed that as many as one in five women leave the workplace due to menopause. Their employers are not told the underlying reasons why.
For many women, particularly those that are in senior roles, their struggle with perimenopause is off the radar – they are either suffering in silence or leaving their jobs. Without policies and practices in place to support women going through this stage, employers may struggle to hold onto their older female talent.
According to Avon’s Too Little Information report, three in five UK women feel totally unprepared for the symptoms of perimenopause. While most women know about menopause and its associated symptoms, few have any idea that symptoms can start several years before menopause.
The same report found that 53 per cent of women visit Google to work out what’s going on rather than chatting to their GP, which only serves to make the scale of this issue less visible. Perimenopause is triggered in the late thirties with symptoms becoming more noticeable by age 43, so it’s a long time to not feel ‘right’ and suffer in silence.
Why should employers care?
Three in five women feel perimenopause has a negative impact at work, according to a 2019 report by the CIPD – and that was before the pandemic. There is a distinct lack of support, education and knowledge on the perimenopause in the workplace, as well as the extent to which women are suffering in silence.
Evidence has always shown that business teams thrive with a balance of gender. Many women at this age in the workplace are often at their prime, bringing their own superpowers – organisation, problem solving, creativity and collaboration. Their absence would leave a considerable gap for organisations in terms of knowledge, experience and leadership, not to mention the cost of recruiting or potential legal fees from discrimination complaints.
What can businesses do?
Education and awareness are critical – 46 per cent of women have never heard the word ‘perimenopause’, according to our research, and Bloomfest also found that 19 per cent of men have never heard of the menopause.
Employers need to play a more active role in providing education and self-care support for those going through perimenopause, as well as a company-wide education piece for line managers and colleagues. If not, mental health will suffer, sick leave will increase, talent will be lost and we predict a substantial increase in employment tribunal being won on the grounds of a woman’s menopause.
With the pandemic heightening stress levels, women in perimenopause are facing burnout and leaving their jobs is a very real possibility. By 2030, the Department for Work and Pensions estimates that 50 per cent of adults in the UK will be aged 50 or over. With more women in the workplace about to transition into perimenopause, we believe that it is an issue that is set to explode.
Lesley Salem is founder of Over the Bloody Moon