Toni Ryan, Health Management Consultant at AON discusses why employers should support female employees suffering from menopausal symptoms
The British Menopause Society (BMS) released statistics in 2017 stating that 45% of women say they feel their menopause symptoms have had a negative impact on their work. Three quarters of women say the menopause has caused them to change their life, and more than half say it has had a negative impact on their lives.
The menopause occurs when a woman stops having periods and her oestrogen levels decline. It is a natural part of ageing; however, the significant impact it can have on a woman’s life is often overlooked and underestimated, especially in the workplace.
The potential symptoms brought on by peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause, which can start a few years before menopause and last anywhere from 4 to 12 years, are extensive; ranging from hot flushes, palpitations, insomnia and reduced concentration to associated psychological symptoms such as depression and panic attacks.
Despite the statistics, menopause remains an invisible entity in workplace health and wellbeing. Even amongst the most progressive of employers, menopause can be difficult to discuss. Studies have shown that women are not comfortable raising their issues with their managers, particularly if they are younger than them or male. Research carried out in 2011 by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation showed that where women had taken time off work to deal with their symptoms, only half of them disclosed the real reason for absence to their line managers. In some cases, female employees struggling with menopause symptoms have been disciplined on competency grounds.
The lack of awareness and understanding of this common health issue means that the simple workplace adjustments which may be required to enable a woman suffering with symptoms to continue being productive and engaged in the workplace are not being provided. This can lead to women becoming disengaged, and can cause anxiety and depression. In some cases, women have chosen to leave the workplace because they no longer feel able to manage their symptoms at work.
There are many things that an employer can do to address these issues. Dr. Louise Newson writes in the Telegraph:
“Recommendations from research in this area are for employers to best support menopausal women as part of a holistic approach to employee health and well-being including risk assessments to make suitable adjustments to the physical and psycho-social work environment, provision of information and support, and training for line managers.
As a first step, employers should consider their current employee age distribution to understand the extent to which menopause may impact their workforce. They can then begin the process of incorporating not just menopause but any age-related health issues into their working practices and policies. By opening the topic up for conversation through awareness events, and including these alongside managers’ mandatory training programmes, a significant step can be taken to seeing menopause included on the health and wellbeing agenda.