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Creating a Menopause-Friendly Workplace

23-01-2024|Anthony Gougeon

Are you set up to support the fastest-growing demographic in the UK workplace?

No, we are not talking about Gen Z; the fastest-growing demographic in the UK workplace is reportedly women aged 45+.  We recently sat down with Kathryn Hume, the Regional Director of one of our business Partners, People Puzzles, who is accredited with the Menopause Experts Group, so she could share her insights and advice for creating a menopause-friendly workplace.

This is something we are already heavily invested in, with our People Promise ensuring we have our own Menopause Support Policy and Menopause Champions including yes, a man, as part of that group too.  It’s something we thought we knew a lot about, until we listened to Kathryn’s expertise!

More than one in ten of women aged 45+ currently face the prospect of having to leave roles they have fought hard to achieve because of something outside their control: menopause.

Kathryn explained it is estimated that over 13 million people in the UK currently are either peri-menopausal (pre-menopausal) or menopausal; and around 4.5 million of those are currently in employment – so that’s roughly one in three. Typically. menopause will affect age groups from 40-58, but it can be much earlier, and last longer. Roughly 80% of those 13 million will experience one or more symptoms – and currently, there are a staggering 74 (and counting) officially recognised symptoms. Some of these may be mild but for around 25%, some can be totally debilitating. The nature and severity of the impact will vary, and can last from a few months to several years

Worryingly menopause is often misdiagnosed for a number of other issues including mental health and even the people experiencing symptoms are often unaware of their cause. It can be a physically and mentally challenging time and employers have a moral and legal duty to ensure their policies, practices and culture are adapted to be supportive and inclusive for people experiencing peri-menopause and menopause symptoms.

Yes, it is a legal requirement

Did you know that?  With Kathryn’s expertise, she pointed out that The Equality Act of 2010 covers menopause support under three different areas: age, sex and disability. Workplace health and safety regulations require that employers must minimise, reduce, or wherever possible remove workplace health and safety risks, and ensure that symptoms are not made worse by conditions in the workplace or its work practices. It is therefore an expectation for employers to make reasonable adjustments to ensure menopause symptoms are not made worse, making changes to help an employee manage their symptoms when doing their job.

The number of cases of employment tribunals being brought against employers for not making reasonable adjustment, allowance or provision for the impact of menopause is rapidly increasing – by 44% in 2021 alone, and the number of recorded cases so far in 2023 is on track to exceed that increase. So while your motivation should primarily be the desire to create a fair, equitable multi-generational workforce that does not discriminate against or unfairly disadvantage any particular segment of the workforce, it is worth noting that the penalties for not making every effort to do so can be severe.

We asked Kathryn for examples of what employers can do to help address the situation, and there are an amazing number of actions you can take.

What can you do to work towards a more menopause-friendly workplace?

  • Education – There are plenty of resources, training courses and accreditations available to educate and equip more people within your workforce on the impact of menopause and how to make your workplace as menopause-friendly as possible.
  • Consultation – One of the best ways to create solutions which really work for your people is to actually ask them what would help. Broad generalisations and sweeping gestures only go so far; when the symptoms can vary so significantly from one person to the next, asking people about what might help them and being prepared to really take on board what they are saying is vital.
  • Flexibility – With no one-size-fits-all solution available, flexibility is always going to be key. Whether that’s a flexible approach to practical aspects like working hours or remote or hybrid working, being flexible about what support is provided as needs change will also be appreciated.
  • Make reasonable adjustments – There may be some simple, practical adjustments you could introduce to make the working environment more comfortable for people experiencing menopausal symptoms. Factors like this will be taken into account in any legal proceedings as well as being important for the comfort and wellbeing of your people.
  • Normalise the conversation – This is the fastest-growing demographic in the UK workplace. There are more women of average menopausal age in the workplace than ever before. A win for improving equality of course, but it does come with the inevitable impact that it will affect a higher proportion of your people. Making it OK to have these conversations will go a long way to creating a supporting and inclusive culture in which more people can thrive.
  • Hold up the mirror – It is important to be honest here and take a critical look at the culture of your business as it is currently. What biases, both conscious and unconscious, may be making your workplace less accessible or accommodating for someone going through menopause? Ageist and sexist practices are still common and often unnoticed as they can be so deeply and habitually entrenched, so it can be helpful to enlist external perspective to get an honest appraisal of where improvements could be made.
  • Be open to improvement – No-one expects perfection straight away. This is an evolving conversation: no-one has all the answers, and perhaps least of all the people most affected. Remember, even the medical community is still learning new things about this phase of life and how best to support people through it.
  • Be compassionate – Spare a thought for the people going through this transition and enduring the side-effects. Without support (and even with it), menopause can be a lonely, worrying time and can have significant short- and long-term impact on a person’s life, both physically and mentally. Practicing empathy and compassion will always be appreciated.

So what are the benefits of getting it right?

Kathryn detailed the many benefits of establishing proactive and inclusive menopause policies in your business, including improved employee wellbeing, better retention of staff, an enhanced employer brand and talent attraction capability, well-managed and improved productivity, reduced absenteeism, reduced legal risk and of course, a more positive workplace culture which embraces multi-generational experience and capability in the long term.

When so many people are affected by this natural transition phase, it makes sense for employers to make adequate provision and avoid losing such a valuable proportion of their people. Done right, creating a menopause-friendly culture and workplace is an unequivocal win-win.

Menopause is just one of the factors to be aware of

Menopause is far from the only reason for the significant number of people leaving the workforce. But given how wide-ranging and in some cases debilitating the side-effects, it is no surprise that not making any provision for it can make continuing untenable in some situations.

Kathryn stressed that if you are looking to attract and retain the best talent in a competitive job market, do not underestimate the importance of longer-term policies around health and wellbeing; from your social sustainability stance to menopause provision, compassionate leave policies and parental or caring leave allowance, your people policies will be under scrutiny and all form part of your employer brand.

Reflecting on the conversation with Kathryn we were pleased to conclude we are doing many things consistent with her thoughts and advice, but there is still a long way to go to really break down the stigma of this subject, as we are determined to do as much as we can to make our workplaces as inclusive and comfortable as we can.

Our thanks to Kathryn and People Puzzles for sharing their thoughts and expertise with us.

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