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Menopause in the Workplace

Menopause in the Workplace

There have been many changes to the workplace over the last 20 to 30 years. One of the most significant changes has been the increase in the numbers of working women, as shown in the research carried out by numerous UK agencies, including The Office of National Statistics1, UNISON2 (the public service union), and most recently The Fawcett Society3 (charity campaigning for women’s rights).

Organisational Demographics

The Office of National Statistics has shown that women aged 50 to 64 are economically the fastest-growing active group, with approximately 5 million women in the workplace in the UK. There has been a significant movement in the development of policies for maternal (and paternal) leave, with most countries making it a legal requirement for all organisations (the USA is a notable exception as one of 4 countries that does not mandate maternity leave as an employee right). However, when it comes to other areas, which potentially affect women and their partners (infertility, miscarriage, care responsibilities for children / elderly relatives), organisations are slow to recognise these needs. There has been a significant increase in awareness of the need for policies in response to changing employee requirements relating to Equality / Discrimination / Identity (EDI), but few organisations have considered menopause to be included in this offering.

1.1 Women in the workplace

When we consider the demographics of the workplace, it is important to focus on the total number of working women in the organisation and to understand the affected age ranges. This should include the trans community which will depend on the engagement with their transition. Some trans men may be experiencing menopause, requiring additional hormonal support, and trans women may be affected by the sustainability of hormone treatments during this life stage.   However, the issue for all affected will be the admission of the symptoms, as there is still a strong taboo over the subject of menopause in the workplace, and embarrassment or reluctance to acknowledge the impact it may have.

People over 50 now make up almost a third of the working population compared to 25% 25 years ago. In 2022, The Fawcett Society worked with a Channel 4 programme (Davina McCall: Sex, Mind and the Menopause) to conduct a representative survey of 4,014 UK women aged 45-55, who are currently or have previously experienced perimenopause or menopause.  The authors recognised that there needs to be more research on the impact of menopause in the trans community and that the survey did not fully represent this important group.3

The Fawcett Society research identified significant challenges in the workplace with detrimental impacts for menopausal women. One in ten women who have been employed during menopause had left work due to menopausal symptoms. Mapped on to the UK population, this would represent an estimated 333,000 women leaving their jobs due to menopause. According to the survey, 14% of women had reduced their hours at work, 14% had gone part-time, and 8% had not applied for promotion. Eight out of ten women said their employer had not shared information, trained staff, or put in place a menopause absence policy.

If we assume the female population in our organisations will follow the average age range for menopause, the breakdown of women affected by menopause can be displayed in three impact groupings, from red (highest) to green (lowest).

 

GROUP 1

In GROUP 1, we can place women aged 45 – 65.

It should also include women experiencing early menopause for whatever reason – surgical (hysterectomy or cancer) or natural. It is important to ensure that awareness of early menopause is included in any communication and education.

GROUP 2

In GROUP 2, we can place women aged 36 – 44.

Perimenopause is likely to be affecting this age group but they may be unaware of it.

GROUP 3

In GROUP 3, we can place women 25 – 35, and also those aged 65+.

This age range needs information on the potential impact of menopause or the impact of degenerative conditions related to menopause.

Table 1 – Demographic impact of menopause in the workplace

Although men do not experience symptoms themselves, it is important to recognise that menopause will impact men working with women in any of these age ranges which is why they should be included in any awareness, education, and training about menopause

Symptoms of menopause are severely impacting women in the workplace:

  • 77% of women experienced one or more symptoms they describe as ‘very difficult.
  • 69% said they experience difficulties with anxiety or depression due to menopause.
  • 84% experienced trouble sleeping.
  • 73% experienced ‘brain fog’.
  • 44% of women said their ability to work had been affected, broken down:
    • 18% of these women said that their symptoms currently affected their ability to do their jobs.
    • 26% of these women said their symptoms had affected them in the past.
  • 61% said that they had lost motivation at work due to their symptoms.
  • 52% said they had lost confidence.

1.2 Economic impact of menopause

In 2013, Nottingham University carried out an opt-in survey of women working in professional roles. It identified that decreased confidence, poor concentration, and memory greatly impacted work, more so than life in general, while hot flushes were difficult in both contexts. They also identified that equal proportions of women agreed and disagreed that their performance at work had been affected by menopause. A third of the women who felt their performance was not affected, said that it could have been if they had not worked hard to overcome this challenge.4

Although the Nottingham survey was carried out in 2013, its findings were confirmed by Fawcett’s work in 2021, an opt-in survey of the financial sector. This research found that a quarter of women said they were considering retiring early due to menopause symptoms, and half said it made them less likely to want to progress in their role.5

In a time when women have invested time and energy to reach significant and potentially senior milestones in their careers, the evidence is showing that this portion of the workforce is voluntarily leaving.

There are implications of these findings in terms of the operational costs for an organisation:

  • Recruitment
  • Absenteeism
  • Decreased productivity
  • Employee motivation and well-being
  • Additional effort in managing performance issues

In 2014, the HR Review6 published information identifying the potential financial impact of recruitment. It revealed that replacing members of staff incurs significant costs for employers: £30,614 per employee. There are two main factors that make up this cost:

  • The Cost of Lost Output while a replacement employee gets up to speed
  • The Logistical Cost of recruiting and absorbing a new worker

A major cost implication to replacing staff is the lost output a company experiences to get new staff up to speed (the cost of them being less effective until they reach their ‘Optimum Productivity Level’). The findings unveil that, on average, workers take 28 weeks to reach optimum productivity which has an attached cost of £25,181 per employee. Considering this was the cost of recruitment in 2014, it is unlikely to have been reduced. The additional costs of the other factors mean that this is not an issue any workplace can afford to ignore.

1.3 What should organisations do next?

The rising numbers of women in the workplace combined with the rising retirement age (now 68 years for women in the UK) and the fact that 3 out of 4 women experience a negative impact during their menopause, requires that organisations consider this important issue.

However, one major problem is that women themselves are ill-informed about menopause. Education and information about this natural stage have been sadly lacking, but it is time to introduce this understanding directly into the workplace, as it is a real issue for everyone.

As a menopause coach, I support organisations with the integration of information and education about this important subject. There are a variety of ways that an organisation can support its workforce, with webinars, workshops, menopause ambassadors, workplace guidelines, and updated well-being governance, including menopause in the Equality, Discrimination, and Inclusion (EDI) policies.  A company can provide employees with suitable assistance by ensuring there is adequate access to medical and non-medical support, health care, and coaching.  

References

  1. The Office for National Statistics (UK)
    https://www.ons.gov.uk/
  2. Unison the public service agency
    https://www.unison.org.uk/
  3. Menopause and the Workplace April 2022
    www.fawcettsociety.org.uk
  4. Griffiths, Maclennan, Hassard. Menopause and work: an electronic survey of employees’ attitudes in the UK. Maturitas 76(2). 2013
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23973049/  
  5. Standard Chartered Bank and the Financial Services Skills Commission (FSSC). ‘Menopause in the Workplace: Impact on Women in Financial Services
    https://av.sc.com/corp-en/content/docs/Menopause-in-the-Workplace-Impact-on-Women-in-Financial-Services.pdf

It costs over £30K to replace a staff member - Oxford Economics / HR Review 2014
https://www.hrreview.co.uk/hr-news/recruitment/it-costs-over-30k-to-replace-a-staff-member/50677

By:

Hellen Morris