Menopause is a hot (no pun intended) topic right now.

A third of all workers in the UK are over 50 and for women, trans, and intersex people aged 50-64, the employment rate has trebled over the last 30 years. Wellbeing of Women found that around 900,000 women consider leaving, or have left, their jobs as a result of the menopause. There is a real impact here on gender pay gaps, given the ‘pool’ of women for more senior roles is shrinking.

Why it matters

The menopause can be a sensitive subject. People just don’t like talking about it. As a woman about to hit her 40s, I certainly don’t like even thinking about it! Thankfully, the UK government has started talking about it and are, as I type, reviewing ‘Menopause and the Workplace’ as part of the Women and Equalities Committee. As found by CIPD and BUPA, three in five women, trans, and intersex people in the 45-55 age group felt “negatively affected” at work.

While the menopause is a natural part of ageing, the symptoms can be debilitating – memory loss, trouble sleeping and resulting fatigue, joint pain, unexpected upswings in temperature – and there are no real treatments, especially if you cannot tolerate hormonal replacement therapy (HRT).

When thinking about family-friendly policies, we normally think about pregnancy and family leave. But what happens when, as a ‘baby maker’, you go out of business? How can small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in particular help the members of their workforce who are experiencing menopausal symptoms and manage to retain them?

Introducing good practice

This issue will not be solved by throwing money at the situation. Workplaces in our current society were arguably designed by men, for men. What a man encounters as a result of ill health is not comparable with what a woman, trans, or intersex person experiences as a result of the menopause – it is simply a different experience. A shift in thinking around how we work has already happened as a result of the pandemic; it seems like we have an ideal opportunity to make this change.

Good training and policies to allow education on the subject will help. Can you make your new ways of working help: changes to where and when someone physically works, peer support for those with brain fog, the ability to flex their working hours? Do you have an employer assistance programme to promote health and wellbeing services that may assist in managing symptoms?

If you have a benefits package already, is it something that can be flexed to ensure this demographic is supported? Benefits benchmarking can go a long way towards ensuring that your offering is up to code and in line with your values, as well as the external market.

I don’t know what the answer is – or even if there is one answer. But, for the sake of everyone, we need to keep talking.

Written by Philippa Nisbet


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