Women at work and Why business need to take notice of Menopause Matters…
Women at work currently make up over 50% of the UK workforce.
60% of essential workers are women.
Women at work over the age of 50 have driven 42% of UK employment growth in the past 10 years.
There are approximately 4 million women aged 50 and above who are still working.
This is just a small handful of facts about women in the workplace. The internet is packed full of credible data that shows us how important women are to UK businesses and how much they contribute to UK GDP. Yet from the age of 40-45 onwards, all women will start to experience changes that could impact their health and mental wellbeing, leading to 370,000 women either leaving work or thinking about leaving work because they are struggling to deal with the symptoms of menopause in their workplace.
How Does Menopause Affect Women?
Menopause can affect every woman differently and it isn’t just the physical effects. Menopause can have a huge impact on a woman’s mental wellbeing which is compounded by the effects of the physical attributes it brings about. Menopause is not just a medical condition; it is a personal experience that can have deep-reaching impacts on a woman’s physical and mental health.
Menopause is influenced by a change in hormone levels. The older we get, the less oestrogen is produced, causing the body to behave differently. This process can even take several years, during which symptoms arise gradually and is called the ‘peri-menopause’. Once the ovaries have ceased their production of oestrogen, other changes take place which may have more of an effect on long-term health. Most commonly these changes affect the strength and density of bones, increasing the risk of the bone-thinning disease called osteoporosis and chemical changes in the body which make women after the menopause especially vulnerable to heart disease and stroke. A decrease in the production of Oestrogen can affect many parts of the body, including the brain, causing changes in emotional well-being.
How does this make women feel?
For many years, menopause was referred to as ‘The Change’ and it was considered a part of the ageing process that women just had to put up with. While there are some women who can keep calm and carry on during this phase in their life, sadly this is not the case for many women. Menopause can cause ‘brain fog’ leaving women worried about their ability to work, care for their families, drive a car and even carry out simple tasks like going food shopping. It has debilitating physical effects that can make being in the workplace for over 8 hours a day hard to manage and often result in embarrassing situations. Simple tasks that have been carried out a thousand times over can suddenly feel insurmountable. Anxiety, fear and self-doubt creep up from nowhere and confidence can be at an all-time low.
What changes need to happen in the workplace?
Many Women at work find they are little prepared for the onset of the menopause and are even less equipped to manage its symptoms at work. They tend not to disclose their symptoms to their manager and workplaces and working practices are not designed with menopausal women in mind. Women are often uncomfortable disclosing their symptoms and problems to managers, particularly if they are young or male, and many women say they have to work extremely hard to overcome their perceived shortcomings due to their menopause.
Employers need to ensure there is a greater awareness among managers of the menopause as a real occupational health issue and provide a culture where women feel comfortable about discussing their symptoms and what impact that has on their working lives. Options around flexible working hours and working arrangements to help manage symptoms should be put in place as should improved access to support.
STUC general secretary Roz Foyer has called for a sea-change in workplace attitudes as midlife women struggle to get simple adjustments to their working conditions. She warned the failure of employers to properly address menopause-related issues meant working women were missing out on promotions, forced to go part-time, and, sometimes, compelled to end their careers early. The Trades Union Congress has produced an interactive guide on menopause to help educate employers and staff about the symptoms of menopause, why it’s a workplace issue and what organisations can do to support staff and the CIPD has created a guide to managing menopause at work. Many organisations are now introducing a carefully thought-out menopause policy to create an inclusive and supportive culture at work.
Whilst there are many people in the workplace suffering from medical conditions that impact on their day-to-day activities in the workplace, Menopause is yet to get the recognition it deserves as an occupational health concern. Companies that are burying their heads in the sand about menopause and how it is affecting their employees stand to lose time served, industry professionals with a wealth of experience and wisdom that help to create the diverse workforces needed for businesses to thrive.