80% of women aged 45-55 are currently employed in the UK, women aged 50-65 are becoming the fastest growing demographic in the UK’s work force and 13 million women in the UK are currently going through the menopause, the CIPD have cited.
Meaning that menopausal women make up a significant proportion of the current labour market. Despite this demographic contributing nearly £1.3bn to the UK economy – many women still feel unsupported and more scarily unable to discuss their symptoms and the impact on their ability to work – resulting in many feeling there is no option other than to leave their roles.
Research from BUPA undertaken in 2019 suggests that nearly 900,000 women have already left the workplace citing a lack of menopause support as the main driver. Additionally, research conducted by the CIPD identified that 60% of women reported that menopausal symptoms have adversely affected their work and 1,000 women surveyed by the British Menopause Society had to take time off for their symptoms but felt reluctant to tell their employer due to fear of the social stigma surrounding menopause.
The average age of women hitting menopause in the UK is 51 but perimenopause can begin for some women as early as their 30s and shares many disruptive symptoms.
Research from the Department of Health shows that 31% of women over 35‘s experience perimenopausal symptoms.
Therefore, it is crucial that employers are aware that over a 1/3 of working women are currently managing wide ranging and sometimes debilitating symptoms such as (physical and cognitive fatigue, disrupted sleep, hot flashes and low mood) whilst trying to work and continue to progress their careers.
Yet, why does menopause remain a taboo topic and one that’s still not openly and safely discussed in the workplace?
Many businesses fail to realise that menopause intersects fundamental pillars such as productivity and profitability, culture and retention, brand image and could result in damaging tribunals and a loss of skilled talent. Businesses need to start an open dialogue about menopause, the issues their employees face and what strategies can be put in place to ensure women can continue to find success and opportunity at this pivotal point in their careers.
So why isn’t menopause on businesses agendas and how can businesses become more menopause inclusive?
Losing your skilled workforce
Women leaving the workforce because of menopause is hugely alarming for any business. The estimated cost to a company of losing a female employee because of menopause is approximately £30,000 due to the immediate disruption, cost of recruitment, retraining and the time required for a new employee to be operating effectively in a new position. The NHS further estimates that in an average year, over 14 million working days are being lost to menopause with a woman having to take nearly 32 weeks in her entire career to managing menstrual symptoms.
Beyond the associated cost of recruitment and retraining, losing a female employee because of menopausal symptoms is hugely detrimental to a businesses’ talent pool. Women of this age hold years of experience, knowledge and wisdom. They are mentoring more junior staff, leading teams and setting agendas for the future ofa business.
By not addressing these issues, business leaders are failing their female employees. They are not able to get the best out of women currently in their roles which leads to an adverse effect on performance. When individual performance suffers, teams suffer. When your people suffer, profit suffers.
Why do women leave?
Beyond making good business sense, establishing policies and practices to support staff with the menopause can create a positive reputation and prove that, as a business, you are looking after your employees. This can be hugely advantageous for attracting and retaining talent. From a brand perspective, this can create a type of ‘halo effect’ where talent pools form a positive perception of a business and seek out employment opportunities within them. This is critical given the current ‘war for talent’ that has dominated the recruitment market for the past few years and drastically impacted hiring trends.
Research completed by Amantha King and June Potts (business consultants and menopause specialists) points to a four-stage cycle of why menopausal women are leaving the workplace. The social taboo around menopause and fears around how they’ll be perceived causes women not to disclose their symptoms. This causes women to suffer in silence, their symptoms often getting worse and they don’t receive support. Finally, women may then choose to leave or be subject to a performance-based dismissal. Recent discourse surrounding menopause and King’s own findings suggest this doesn’t have to be the case.
How can an employer help?
Pat Duckworth, wrote in Menopause: Mind the Gap: The value of supporting women’s wellness in the workplace, ‘Businesses can put into place practical strategies to retain these employees ranging from flexible work hours and work from home policies, desk fans to standing desks, relaxed dress codes and free sanitary products.
More importantly is the need to foster an open dialogue, beginning with asking women the question, ‘what support do you need?’. Dr. Paula Briggs, Head of the British Menopause Society was quoted in The Small Business Conversation, “For the majority of women, what you want is simply for someone to listen”. This is supported by King’s acknowledgement that for many women, menopause is confusing and often they might not know what they need. We can begin by holding a conversation at every level of the business with every gender.
Businesses may choose to access support from professional training consultants that teach senior leaders and line managers about menopausal symptoms, how to spot when employees may be suffering and lead sensitive conversations without making assumptions.
Additionally, a business may look to ensure menopausal issues are covered as part of their employee benefits. Hormone replacement therapy along with testing and treatment for low bone density and heart health are all issues commonly associated with menopause yet are not covered under many health insurance policies. For a business to retain their talent, offering paid leave for employees suffering from menopausal symptoms is a game changer. For example, ASOS and Kellogg are brands that offer flexible work and paid leave for menopausal sickness. There is a real need for a cultural shift in how we talk about menopause. The historical stigma surrounding menopause has meant that women face penalties for discussing this at work and that businesses need to establish communities where all employees can discuss its effects and be part of the solution (Duckworth, Bridging the Gap). Creating the right culture and a safe space is the most effective way to start becoming a menopause inclusive employer. This is critical for any business in retaining its employees and attracting further talent. Findings from The City of London Economic research highlighted a staggering 98% of people wouldn’t work for a business that doesn’t align with their values. By encouraging conversations at an executive level then by discussing menopause at all levels of a business, companies can transform how we think and talk about menopause. This will undoubtedly promote a more inclusive business culture.
A personal perspective
Gill Bellchambers, Director at Axon Moore says that although we have made progress over the past six years, there is still a lack of awareness in business when it comes to menopause, which is resulting in a lack of understanding and care.
“Six years ago, I underwent a surgical menopause. That initial six-week period post my hysterectomy I was off work recovering, but little did I, Axon Moore or my family know what awaited us and the full effect menopause was about to have.
From conversations with my GP, who confessed he knew little about HRT to me thinking I had early onset dementia due to the brain fog I was experiencing, menopause took its toll. Tasks I’d taken for granted at work like remembering client names were proving difficult and I began to feel incapable.
I am one of the lucky ones in this story, as I was under the care of one of the country’s leading gynaecologists and was able to seek private support to adjust my medication, but the pivotal point was that I received support across the board from work, friends and my family.
Following conversations with Amantha and June, it became apparent to me that despite feeling better – there is still more that I can do to get me back to my best. These conversations, my personal experience and from speaking with colleagues and connections it’s become clear to me how imperative it is that businesses build their understanding surrounding menopause – that women are given the support when and how they require it without being made to feel patronised or like a nuisance!
As a female board member, the chair of Axon Moore’s Women in Business programme, a colleague, a mum and a friend, I hope that I can help to shed light on the taboo of menopause, create an open and safe space for people to talk about their symptoms, help share stories, offer advice and showcase how by giving people the support they need, you really can help them reach their potential.
I think all businesses should be encouraged to better equip staff on the symptoms of menopause, to spot the signs, lend an ear and generally be more aware, kind and supportive.
Menopause isn’t going anywhere, and we all need to challenge ourselves to be the most supportive we can be, but to question and push our employers to create strategies, introduce menopause champions and to really become an inclusive menopause workplace.