More and more women are joining the UK workforce every year, and, due to ongoing shifts in the age at which workers are eligible for state pension, women also have longer working lives than ever before.
However, while every workplace has to recognise and act upon the legal rights of women in pregnancy, another issue exists that is unique to women – one that seems to be very regularly overlooked. The menopause is a seldom-discussed workplace matter, and yet it’s something that affects hundreds of thousands of women every year.
A study of one thousand women based around the UK was recently undertook, all over 45 years of age and all currently in either full time or part time work*. Seventy-seven per cent of the women surveyed had already gone through the menopause, or were currently experiencing it. Just under two thirds of those respondents admitted that the symptoms they experienced made work much harder for them.
The survey respondents experienced typical menopause symptoms to varying degrees. The most common issue was hot flashes, which affected 73 per cent of the sample group. The next was drowsiness or exhaustion, with which 63 per cent struggled. 48 per cent reported low mood, 47 per cent found it difficult to concentrate and 43 per cent had issues with their memory. Only six per cent said that they didn’t experience any symptoms of the menopause at all while working.
As a result of the menopause symptoms they experienced, just over a third found themselves struggling with depression and anxiety, while 29 per cent developed low self-confidence. Over half (58 per cent) of respondents said they were still experiencing symptoms of the menopause, and this continued to affect their work. Forty-one per cent admitted that those symptoms were causing them to make mistakes at work. Around 40 per cent mentioned that the menopause had caused them to lose interest in their job.
The study showed that menopause can occasionally have a dramatic and profound effect on a person’s career. Eleven per cent of the women that were surveyed said that their lack of self-confidence, which had developed as a result of their symptoms, prevented them from putting themselves forward for promotion. Still more worryingly, perhaps, eight per cent believed that menopause is likely to have contributed to their decision to leave their job
Of course, menopause symptoms are difficult to manage day in and day out. As a result of this, many women feel forced to take days off work. twenty-four per cent of those questioned said that they had taken a sick day because they were suffering from these symptoms. Almost half of those who did so said they called in on multiple occasions.
The national average of menopausal women who have called in sick to work more than once stands at 11per cent. When examined by region, it’s apparent that women in Yorkshire aged 45 and over took the highest number of days off work because of the menopause – with 20 per cent doing so more than once. Northern Ireland saw the largest proportion of women calling in sick just once – 37 per cent claim to have done so, while the national average stands at 13 per cent.
With symptoms of the menopause causing this level of upheaval to women’s working lives, it might seem sensible for organisations to have policies in place offering support. However, astonishingly, 90 per cent of the women who responded to the survey said that their employer had no support in place whatsoever for women going through the menopause. Of the 10 per cent that did offer support, five per cent provided it in the form of free advice, or a “menopausal club”. Three per cent had policies in place regarding menopausal employees, while another three per cent offered training in psychological and physical well-being to line managers, allowing them to help staff members who were struggling.
When asked how they found out about the help that was available, 28 per cent of respondents said that one of their superiors had told them about it. Another 28 per cent said that the information was published in the company’s employee handbook, while 18 per cent explained that they found details of support on their organisation’s intranet and 12 per cent said that the information was shared via a workplace newsletter. By contrast, 32 per cent were told about it by female coworkers.
Only 15 per cent of the women who took part in the new survey mentioned that they spoke to their superior or manager about their symptoms and the problems they were having. Regionally, women from Northern Ireland were more likely to have a discussion with their manager, with 37 per cent choosing to do so. By contrast, 90 per cent of women in the South West did not speak to any superior about their issues.
Overall, seven per cent of respondents said that they were offered help and that help was provided when required. Five per cent reported that help was offered but not provided. A considerable number – 82 per cent in total – said that their work offered no support whatsoever. Almost three quarters of the women in the sample group believed that their employers needed to do more to support women experiencing symptoms of the menopause.
Sarah Bolt, Forth With Life founder, commented on the findings,
The purpose of this study was to determine how significantly, and in what ways, women in employment are affected by symptoms of the menopause, and what policies and procedures are currently in place within organisations to provide help and support for matters of this kind. It’s quite shocking to see the lack of support women get at work and our study highlights how urgent it is for UK employers to improve their policies and offer help that is much needed.
Deborah Garlick, from Henpicked: Menopause In The Workplace, added:,
We hear experiences from women every day who want to be at their best at work but menopause symptoms get in the way. They are not feeling able to give the performance they want, may take time off, don’t go for career progression or worse still leave altogether.
The fact is they need help and support from their bosses and it’s often small things that make a big difference or for a short period of time. Employers can play a huge part in this. Inspirational organisations like Network Rail, Severn Trent, University of Leicester and the Sherwood Forest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust launched policies, awareness and education. Seeing outstanding results, benefiting colleagues and the organisation.
This is not a women’s issue, everyone needs to be able to talk about menopause and women need to feel comfortable asking for help if they need it. The easier and more normal we make it to talk about menopause, the better it is for everyone.
Comment and advice from employment lawyer:
Juliette Franklin, an employment lawyer from Slater and Gordon, commented,
In many cases employees whose menopause symptoms cause them substantial issues will be protected by the Equality Act’s disability provisions. This means employers must make adjustments for them in the workplace, as far as is reasonable. What is a reasonable adjustment will depend on the employee’s particular symptoms and their work, but could include allowing flexible working or additional breaks, ensuring the workplace temperature is comfortable and providing rest areas and cold drinking water. You should make requests in writing, supported by a letter from your doctor if possible, and if an employer refuses your request for reasonable adjustments you may be able to bring a claim in the employment tribunal. You have to start any legal action within 3 months less a day of any refusal, so you should take advice promptly if you think you have a claim.
*by Forth With Life survey 1,000 UK employed (full-time, part-time) women aged 45 and over, between 29th – 30th of January 2019.