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Why menopause support matters at work

It has only been more recently that the perimenopause and menopause are being discussed more openly. Celebrities such as Davina McCall have talked openly about how difficult they found navigating menopause (she said amongst other things that it made her feel as if she’d ‘aged 10 years overnight’) and the impact it had on their mental and physical health. One of the key issues for many women is that their experiences during perimenopause and menopause aren’t taken seriously and they feel frustrated and isolated with no clear path forward in terms of treatment and support. It’s important that employers are aware of the impact it can have on the workplace too and potentially develop strategies that can support and help women that are going through these significant changes.

What is peri menopause and menopause?

Perimenopause encompasses¬†the years leading up to menopause, and it can start in a women’s forties or even earlier potentially. Symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings and weight gain are not uncommon. Your periods may become more irregular too. Menopause is defined as not having had a period for 12 months and women can go through it in their forties or fifties (or earlier in some cases). Menopausal symptoms really vary with some women experiencing hot flashes, headaches, mood swings, anxiety, aches and pains, depression and weight gain and other women having milder symptoms. Emotionally it can present a tricky time as women get to grips with the ageing process and the fact that they are no longer able to have children. For some women this might be a positive thing but for those who have gone through infertility issues and have perhaps not been able to have children, but wanted them, menopause can represent a significant emotional challenge.

What kind of impact does menopause have in the workplace?

What is so interesting is how perimenopause and menopause are not just issues that impact on the woman going through them. They also impact others within the organisation and have a knock on effect on staff retention as a whole, the performance of the company and extra spend in terms of training and recruitment costs.

It can impact work performance

Put simply perimenopause and menopause can significantly impact work performance. This might be due to the physical symptoms that the employee is going through – i.e. they’re feeling more tired, experiencing brain fog, a lack of focus etc. but also down to the emotional side of perimenopause and menopause and the fact that many women feel isolated and anxious about the symptoms they’re experiencing.

Many women can also get locked into a negative cycle where they worry that they’re not delivering at work, then if they receive feedback, even constructive feedback, ¬†they see this as evidence that they’re not performing and this impacts on their confidence so they continue to not deliver. It’s a very difficult situation to manage – the physical and emotional impact of the perimenopause and menopause often result in a strong blow to the employees confidence and confidence is intrinsically linked to performance so despite having years of experience, women suddenly doubt their own ability to do their jobs as they used to.

Globally, menopause-related productivity losses can amount to more than $150 billion a year, (stated a recent article in ‘Bloomberg Equality’).

Menopause can result in women leaving their jobs

If work lacks the flexibility and support necessary, women can end up leaving their jobs because they cannot see a way forward in terms of managing their work and the symptoms they’re going through at the same time. This results in a huge loss of talent for companies. These are often women who have years of experience to offer an organisation and can potentially offer great mentoring opportunities to staff coming into the company.

Without them the company loses expertise, specific skill sets developed over time, training and investment time (they will need to train up new members of the team to potentially replace some of the lost talent), and the diverse role models younger employees need to inspire them and retain them within the organisation.

Even before the pandemic, menopause was driving some women out of the workforce. A 2019 survey conducted by BUPA and cited by the CIPD, a London-based association for human resource management professionals, reckoned almost 900,000 women in the U.K. left their jobs over an undefined period of time because of menopausal symptoms.

Women miss out on promotions

Many women going through symptoms may have to take time off work to manage their symptoms but may be worried about telling their employer why they’re taking the time off. If their performance is impacted too then this results in them missing opportunities to be promoted. Women may also be passed over for promotion because their confidence has been impacted upon and they feel less able to put themselves forward for new challenges.

A lack of coherent support or policy contributes to gender inequality

If a company fails to offer any support or help women going through menopause and women leave the company or are passed over for promotion it contributes to gender inequality in the workplace. It also reduces a sense of diversity in terms of who is represented at the top of organisations. This in turn has a direct impact on the performance of many companies (studies have shown that greater diversity delivers better performance). Diversity at the top of organisations also makes younger employees feel positive about going to work because they can see relevant role models and observe how they are being supported through challenging times.

It can also contribute to a lack of staff retention amongst younger female employees

Younger female employees are already reading up on the perimenopause and menopause and whilst it might not be something they’re concerned with now, they’re likely to feel more positive towards an employer who takes supporting its female staff seriously. It illustrates forward thinking, and empathy and can also reassure younger women that when they go through the same challenges, their employer will be there to support them.

These are just some of the ways that the menopause and perimenopause can impact on the workplace and why providing support in this area is so important.

We will be sharing more on what kind of support can be offered very soon.

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