Menopause Policy - who needs it?

In recent years, we have seen increased coverage in the media and on social media platforms and outlets about women’s health and the menopause.   Employers have increasing awareness of the impact of the menopause on women in work. 

A large part of the reason for this is that there are about 15 million women working in the UK today. Since the 1980’s the labour market has seen a steady rise year on year of women taking up employment and staying in employment with a notable rise from women born in the 1950’s and 1960’s and earlier who tended to leave work following marriage or childbirth.

Today, ONS stats show that 76.3% of women aged between 16-64 years old are in employment compared with just over 50% of women in 1971.    The ONS also report that women over 50 now make up 13% of UK workers.

Likely reasons for this change include the change to the state pension age for women which was increased from 60 to 65 years and is due to rise again to 68 years.    Changes in traditional family structures, the rise in divorce as well as disparity of value in pensions between men and women and particularly those who took career breaks for child-care reasons and the disparity of pay which persists between men and women forces many women to remain in the workforce long past a retirement age of 60 or 65.     

The menopause will affect every woman and is a natural transition stage in most women’s lives.   This means that a significant number of women in the workforce today, women in your workplace are experiencing the effects of the menopause or perimenopause which many women experience in the years before menopause.  Women experience a wide range of effects which can last an astonishing 12 months to 8 years and can include anxiety, persistent loss of sleep, memory problems, brain fog, hot flushes, sweats, migraines, depression, irritability, loss of self-confidence, hair loss which can be profound, osteoporosis, heavy and painful periods which can cause exhaustion and anaemia with a reported 45% of women experiencing severe symptoms.   

The menopause can also affect a wider range of people and some medical circumstances will cause immediate menopause regardless of age for example some cancer treatments or a hysterectomy.   Early menopause causes the additional psychological distress of infertility at an early age.   Same sex partners may experience menopause at the same time.  Trans Men and Women and some of those who identify as non-binary people may also experience the menopause.

Very little work has been done to research the impact of the menopause on the long-term careers of women in the UK.   A 2017 government review reports that menopausal women were one of the fastest growing groups in work and there is now a record number of women at work in the UK.     The Fawcett Society together with major banks, insurers and asset managers announced that they were taking part in a landmark survey on menopause to be carried out amid fears that lack of support may be hindering women’s access to senior roles in the City.    There are approximately 130,000 women working in financial services and many women are only in a position to seek more senior roles when they are between the ages of 45 and 55 years which coincides with menopause transition. 

Research carried out for Vodafone found that a third of women in work said they hid symptoms of menopause at work and that in the UK, 63% of women (in all ages groups) had shied away from asking for support in the workplace for perimenopause and menopause symptoms feeling a stigma remains associated with menopause which unlike many other female health issues has remained firmly on the shelf.  

Lack of information remains the biggest challenge. Crucially ONS report that men hold a higher share of senior management roles such as Directors, managers or senior offices at 14% against 9% of women.   This invariably impacts on how women suffering with menopausal symptoms are perceived and treated.   Often menopause is not on the radar of managers to explain a change in performance, conduct or attendance and if it is, then all too often there is reluctance to have that conversation due to perceived stigma and taboo that remains. 

It is also reported that the highest rate of suicide in women is between the ages of 45 and 49 years when many women are experiencing perimenopausal symptoms and it’s a concern that this could be a hidden cost of lack of information or help available.

So, we need to talk about the menopause and its impact on women at work.  To do this, employers will benefit from having a formal menopause policy in place which sets out information for managers and employees about what the menopause is, how it can affect women and how managers and colleagues can support those going through the menopause and provide guidance and support for those who work and live with menopausal colleagues. 

A menopause policy can also inform and educate employees about the risk of discrimination claims or claims for unfair dismissal which can arise if a woman is treated less favourably due to menopausal symptoms and we see cases reported in the media where menopausal women are ridiculed by colleagues leading to claims in the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal and discrimination on the grounds of sex and potentially disability if the effects of for example anxiety or depression caused by the menopause are sufficiently severe to constitute a disability.   A well informed and trained manager is better prepared to identify menopause as an explanation for a downturn in attendance, perceived poor performance or changes in behaviour of a female colleague.   Having a menopause policy in place will help the business support employees and limit the risk of expensive claims being played out in the very public forum of the Employment Tribunal.

Many organisations now appoint a Menopause Champion to be a point of contact and support for women at work but also for spouses or partners of menopausal women who need support or advice.

If your organisation is starting a conversation about the menopause and need assistance with this or putting in place a menopause policy, then get in touch.   Our employment team can provide menopause policies or review and update an existing menopause policy for a fixed fee.  

For further information contact Judith Curran on 01689 887812.

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Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.