Michelle Robinson Hayes offers five important factors that managers need to know about the menopause
Women of average menopausal age are the fastest growing in the workforce and yet the experiences of this segment are often poorly understood and overlooked.
Study after study has proven the catastrophic impact of this oversight; CIPD research showed that three out of five women say the menopause has a negative impact on them at work, Fawcett Society research found one in 10 women had left a job during menopause, a separate study from Research Without Barriers found one million women in the UK could be forced out of jobs because their employers failed to support them and globally, and menopause-related productivity losses can exceed $150 billion a year.
In July 2022 a number of recommendations were made in a report by the Women and Equalities Committee to address the lack of support and protection for menopausal women, one of which was to amend the Equality Act 2010 to introduce a new protected characteristic of menopause.
For almost 70% of people, their manager has more of an impact on their mental health than their therapist or doctor and it’s equal to the impact of their partner
Although the government recently rejected the bill – perhaps missing an opportunity to protect a huge number of talented and experienced women from dropping out of the workforce – this was not a green light for organisations to sweep menopause under the rug. Women experiencing menopause have faced stigma and shame for too long. Normalising conversations around menopause, creating safe spaces and tuning into the basic needs of an individual can be transformative for both the employee and the business.
The important role of managers during the menopause
Managers play a critical role in the experience of their teams in the workplace. New research found that for almost 70% of people, their manager has more of an impact on their mental health than their therapist or doctor and it’s equal to the impact of their partner. Arguably, this research is cause for managers to re-evaluate and ensure they are supporting the diverse range of needs amongst their employees, and that includes needs as a result of the menopause.
In fact, nearly 20% of those who’d experienced menopause in the workplace said that it had a negative impact on their manager’s perceptions of their competence at work and only 50% of women who took time off work to deal with symptoms told their line-manager the real reason for their absence.
Now’s the time to change the approach to menopause in the workplace. This is not about beating yourself up about what you don’t know, rather it’s about being proactive and taking appropriate action from now to support women in your team.
With that in mind, here are five important points to know about menopause, including how it shows up and the impact it could be having on your employees.
1. Menopause can trigger avoidance behaviour
Anxiety triggered by the menopause can be a big shock to women, particularly if they have not experienced anxiety before. As a manager, you may find that employees who once exuded confidence are now much more reserved and worried than usual. Avoidance goes hand-in-hand with anxiety because people look to avoid situations that might make them feel more anxious. We sometimes find that anxiety induced by the menopause stops women from going for promotions.
2. Absenteeism can be common during menopause
The hormone imbalance commonly experienced in both perimenopause and menopause can trigger a range of symptoms including disrupted sleep, night sweats, hot flashes, dry skin, incredible tiredness and fatigue, and muscle aches and pain. For many women, stress only intensifies these symptoms and many will need to take time off work.
3. Menopausal women can be prone to accidents
Difficulty concentrating and lapses in memory are common symptoms of menopause which can be caused by the direct effects of low oestrogen on brain function. In addition, changes in the perception of depth of vision can occur which can impact the awareness of surroundings. This perfect storm of symptoms can make some women more prone to accidents during the menopause.
4. Mental health and depression
One study has shown that women are two to four times more likely to experience a major depressive episode during menopause than at other times of their lives. Menopause and low oestrogen can also exacerbate an existing mental health condition.
5. Menopause is a personal experience for everyone
How menopause shows up is different in everyone. A study that followed over 2,000 women showed that each woman’s experience of menopause was different. One woman may experience a wide spectrum of symptoms, whilst another woman may experience mild, or a couple of symptoms. The support each woman needs can therefore vary drastically.
Sadly, many women try to hide or disguise their symptoms because of embarrassment or through fear of repercussions. But by understanding how the menopause impacts this critical segment, managers can help to foster safer and more supportive cultures that keep talented women in the workplace for longer.
Michelle Robinson Hayes, employee assistance programme interventions manager, Vita Health Group