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Normalizing Female Health at Every Age

Oct. 18, 2022
Historically, menopause hasn’t been widely discussed—or even considered a workplace concern—despite being a life stage that affects half of the adult population. Some countries, and companies, are starting to change that.

Menopause is a workplace issue. Globally, the cost of menopause-related productivity losses to businesses is thought to be up to  $150 billion USD a year.

A recent survey found that 90% of people in the workplace who have experienced menopause symptoms said that it has negatively impacted their productivity and interpersonal relationships.

This is a lose-lose scenario for both workers and employers. The lack of discussions and policy on menopause at the workplace slows down inclusion strategies, affects productivity and staff morale and companies risk losing senior employees with decades of experience—the would-be mentors and advocates for future generations. It can also put employee health and safety at risk, particularly in non-office working environments.

However, the tide is turning. After the deafening silence surrounding menopause for so long, leaders and managers are making positive changes to support employees through this life stage.

Here are ways companies can design a supportive and effective workplace menopause policy that normalizes female health and helps retain senior talent, an important topic every day but especially on World Menopause Day (October 18).

Why Menopause is a Workplace Issue

Historically, menopause has been little understood and spoken about despite being a life stage that affects half of the adult population. Approximately 1.3 million people in the U.S. enter menopause each year, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Menopause can have serious emotional and physical impacts on a person’s life, including at work. Symptoms go beyond the well-cited hot flashes and night sweats. From insomnia and anxiety to memory loss and chronic fatigue, the effects of menopause on employees are diverse; all can affect performance, confidence and enjoyment of work.

Yet, 87% of employees say they would not speak to their employer about their menopause symptoms, citing feelings of shame and fear of stigmatization.

As a result, many high-ranking U.S. employees  leaving the workforce in record numbers, with 17% quitting or considering quitting a job due to menopause symptoms. That equates to 516,000 people. This is a serious loss for individuals, teams and businesses, particularly at a time of labor shortages and low unemployment.

To be sure, there has been progress over recent years in having open and honest conversations about the menopause in wider society. Still, many organizations remain unprepared for dealing with the impact of the menopause on their workforce and unable to provide the right kind of support. But this isn’t surprising given the lack of pressure from legislators or regulators.

As of publication, no country in the world recognises a right to menopause leave—or dictates policies addressing the needs of workers who are experiencing symptoms of menopause as there are for other health issues.

A forerunner in rebranding menopause as a workplace issue is the United Kingdom. While the government has stopped short of legislation, it has created up a Menopause Taskforce focused on tackling taboos and stigmas surrounding menopause, including at work.

As with paid leave in general, the U.S. lags behind other countries when it comes to putting workplace menopause protections in place. But that doesn’t mean change can’t happen.

Does your organization need a menopause policy?

The answer is yes, even if it isn’t mandated by law. That’s because women over the age of 50 are the fastest growing employee demographic in the workforce today, representing a widening pool of talent that should be empowered and supported.

Menopause also often intersects with a critical career stage, when women are most likely to reach a leadership position. So, if we want to continue to move the needle on the number of women in leadership roles and maintain their valuable contributions to a company’s bottom-line, things need to change—now.

In addition to helping with retention, a menopause policy can help organizations attract talent at a time of growing skill shortages. As a workplace benefit, it signals to candidates that you care about your staff and offer a supportive and safe environment—qualities that can help set you apart from competitors.

Even for employees who are yet to reach this life stage, having this supportive structure in place can make them feel valued today and offer peace of mind for the future.

For example, a recent survey found 57% of respondents said if they were considering working for a company, it would be “very important” or “somewhat important” to them if the company clearly expressed a commitment to support employees experiencing menopause symptoms.

What’s more, over the past four years, interest in Menopause Leave has increased by 1300%, signaling a shift in employee expectations.

There is also the inescapable fact that there is a growing risk to employers from being sued by staff. In the UK, employment tribunals citing menopause increased by 75% between 2020 and 2021.

How to design an effective workplace menopause policy

The benefits to an organization and its staff of having a workplace menopause policy in place are plentiful.

Businesses looking to future-proof their workplace health, safety and diversity strategies have two options:

  1. Review and rewrite existing policies to include menopause-related protections.
  2. Create a standalone menopause policy that gives an extra level of clarity for management and employees.

After this has been decided, the first step is to start the menopause conversation in the workplace with a published statement of intent and introduction to the company’s plans. Arrange a whole company discussion, with representation from the C-suite, to explain why you are introducing menopause policies and the benefits to all employees. Invite staff to contribute their thoughts and ideas, either in person or anonymously.

You may also want to complete a risk assessment as part of your obligation to protect the health and safety of the workforce. For those affected by the menopause, this could include making sure that symptoms are not made worse by the workplace and making changes to help workers manage symptoms.

Once you have completed an assessment and have collected and reviewed the views of your employees, it is time to design a policy that:

  • Provides resources and training for managers to increase awareness around the issue and how they can best support staff members.
  • Clearly defines how employees must report any health or performance issues relating to menopause and who they should speak to within the organization.
  • Lists the initiatives or support available, including employee assistance programs, health insurance or mental health first aid as well as external informational resources, such as those published by the North American Menopause Society.
  • Outlines the company’s willingness to offer reasonable adjustments to ease symptoms and support staff when symptoms are impacting their performance or wellbeing. This includes any flexible working options, paid leave, changes to duties, extra breaks to rest or changes to dress code.
  • Commits to increasing representation of women over the age of 45 in top leadership positions to serve as role models for younger workers.
  • Invites expert speakers to empower women within the workforce to make positive life changes to support their menopause journeys. Awareness days such as World Menopause Day and International Women’s Day are great opportunities to bring attention to the issue and generate engagement among staff.

Workplace menopause policies will continue to evolve as the concept matures and becomes more widely adopted by organizations around the world.

It goes without saying that once your firm has a menopause policy in place, it isn’t job done. Organizations must remain responsive to changing attitudes, latest scientific research and ongoing staff feedback. Then, they must accordingly revise and adapt their supportive framework.

Finn Bartram is editor-in-chief at People Managing People, an online community and independent publication for people managers and culture creators who are focused on creating healthy and productive workplaces.

About the Author

Finn Bartram

Finn Bartram is editor-in-chief at People Managing People, an online community and independent publication for people managers and culture creators who are focused on creating healthy and productive workplaces. 

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