Right now, in the UK, more than 13 million people are going through the menopause. This is a significant portion of the population and workforce.
So - why aren’t we talking about it at work?
In a recent survey conducted on topic of menopause, 44% of participants (all between ages 50 – 60) stated it had significantly affected their general mental and emotional wellbeing.
In a 2019 workplace study an estimated 14 million work days were lost to British business each year due to menopausal symptoms.
In fact, it’s the reason that people of the female sex over the age of 50 are four times more likely to experience depression than their juniors
Given statistics like this, employers need to ask themselves what support is, or can be made available to staff affected by menopause. As behind those mind-boggling numbers are individuals, whose wellbeing and access to work is being compromised due to a lack of understanding or provision surrounding the menopause; an unsurprising and natural part of ageing for half the population.
These statistics prove that the menopause - for so long the butt of misogynistic jokes and quite possibly a source of embarrassment in a society that fetishizes youth (especially when it comes to women) - is no laughing matter, for both the individual and for the businesses that employ them.
The survey (referenced above) found 70% of respondents did not tell their bosses they were experiencing menopausal symptoms. We can take an educated guess that their silence was due to the pervasive perception of this topic as ‘taboo.’
Businesses and their HR teams would do well to remember that menopause is something that needs to be understood and accommodated in order to support the overall wellbeing of their workforce.
Menopause and the hormonal changes that define it are a natural part of the ageing process and occur when an individual stops menstruating. Everybody’s response to that period of transition – one that can last for anything from a few months to many years – is uniquely personal.
The average age at which menopause occurs in the UK is between 45 and 55 years but it’s not an age-exclusive process. Whilst accounting for a minority of cases, menopause at a younger age is not uncommon – either biologically or through surgery.
Menopause has three stages:
Though some women can sail through this change unaffected by the hormonal maelstrom, the majority experience varying symptoms of equally varying intensity or severity.
Typical physical symptoms range from the well-known (hot flushes, tiredness, night sweats and insomnia) to the less well-known (forgetfulness, aching joints, headaches). Experiencing physical symptoms for a prolonged time - which is commonly the case – can also have a detrimental impact on the individual’s emotional wellbeing.
The menopause can have a profound effect on one’s mental health, with depression, anxiety, mood swings and loss of self-esteem and confidence not being unusual.
Fluctuations in hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) might be responsible for this, as could the psychological implications of going through this change - in relation to a person’s fertility, identity, body and what they may feel this means through a societal lens. Though it is important to state that this is not the case for all women, some of whom find menopause liberating.
Synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and/or bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) are two ways in which menopausal symptoms are often treated. However, many individuals choose not to take HRT due to concerns over its reported links to cancer and heart disease.
The result is a significant number of people experiencing negative symptoms associated with the menopause take no medication to mitigate their symptoms.
In most cases, people going through the menopause are failed by their employers through a lack of education about it and the debilitating symptoms it can trigger.
Business leaders can have a positive impact in the workplace by ensuring their HR teams have access to specialist learning resources. In turn, HR partners should aim to ensure there is greater awareness of the personal impact that menopause can have on colleagues.
Some excellent tools are provided by the HR body, CIPD, here, that offer some educational resources and advice on how to sensitively support staff for both HR teams and people managers.
One of the keys to providing support for staff who are experiencing chronic symptoms – whether of menopause or anything else – lies in having a flexible mindset when it comes to both working hours and remote working.
The near year long COVID restrictions have offered many businesses insight into what can be achieved remotely and how that knowledge can inform the approach to employee wellbeing.
For those businesses that are unable to offer truly flexible working options because of operational need, the challenge lies in taking advantage of whatever opportunities do exist, and in finding other practical ways to support colleagues both in and out of the workplace.
In the end, the most important thing any business can do to help colleagues who are experiencing challenges in their physical and/or mental health is to create an environment that’s both safe and inclusive.
By encouraging employees to be honest about their health needs, and then reinforcing that through meaningful support, you will begin to build a culture of empathy and value – and will be likely to see a return on that investment in better morale, retention, and goodwill.
If you’re looking for any additional wellbeing support for you employees get in touch with Luminate at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0203 637 7417.