Author: Meg Dunphy, HR Policy & Engagement Manager, CIPD
Menopause awareness and supports in the workplace have never been more widely discussed. We were delighted to have Prof. Tom Garavan of University College Cork and Dr. Maeve O’Sullivan of University of Galway share some advanced findings on research conducted on menopause at work at our annual Wellbeing seminar. These soon to be published research findings from Prof. Garavan, Dr O’Sullivan and Dr. Elaine O’Brien, Dr. Cliodhna MacKenzie, and Sarah Greely of University College Cork delves into the experiences of menopausal women at work, explores the attitudes of non-menopausal employees, and identifies potential interventions to support women through this transition.
As our society undergoes significant demographic shifts, with people living and working longer, it becomes increasingly important to address the unique challenges faced by women in the workplace. Menopause, traditionally overlooked as a gender and age-related issue, emerges as a critical organisational concern. The 2023 study encompasses findings from 986 participants across five public sector organisations in Ireland, shedding light on the nuanced dynamics of menopause in the workplace.
The research involved a diverse group of 986 participants, with 84.7% females and 15.3% males. The age distribution ranged from under 20 to 65+, capturing a broad spectrum of experiences. Menopausal status revealed variations among females, with categories such as pre-menopausal, peri-menopausal, menopausal, and post-menopausal. Job levels included entry, intermediate, supervisor, middle management, senior management, manual, and other roles.
Knowledge of menopausal transition:
Participants with menopausal experience demonstrated a significantly higher level of knowledge about menopause compared to their non-menopausal counterparts. However, a concerning trend emerged among those without menopausal experience, with 83.9% feeling ill-informed and 71% indicating that menopause was either not discussed or considered a 'taboo' subject in the workplace. Furthermore, there was a reluctance among participants to discuss their menopausal experiences with managers. At the CIPD, we are working tirelessly to create menopause friendly work environments and have published resources and guides for people professionals as well as people managers.
Knowledge of menopause policies:
A prevalent theme across the five organisations was the lack of awareness or limited knowledge regarding menopause policies. A significant percentage (72.8%) of non-menopausal participants were unsure if their organisation had a menopause policy. Menopausal participants showed uncertainty (53.2%) or reported the absence (42.5%) of a menopause policy in their workplace. Attendance at menopause workshops was generally low, even among menopausal individuals. We would encourage organisations to have a menopause policy in place, ensure it is well communicated and visible, and provide manager training for its effective application.
Menopause symptoms and impact:
The research highlighted that physical and mental exhaustion, sleep problems, and irritability were the most common menopause symptoms. Participants experiencing more severe symptoms also reported lower work engagement, productivity, and work-life balance, along with increased physical and mental health issues.
Comparisons between pre-menopausal and menopausal women revealed significant differences. Women with menopausal experience reported lower social support, both from supervisors and in personal relationships. They also experienced higher cognitive job demands, more autonomy, and increased exhaustion compared to their pre-menopausal counterparts. Notably, menopausal women were less likely to express an intention to apply for promotion. This is a worrying finding, given our tight labour market and gender pay gap.
Attitudes toward organisational support:
Across all participants, there was a consensus that organisations should offer support during menopausal transition. Management training was deemed most important, followed by information sessions for menopausal employees, information sessions for all employees, and increased flexibility for those undergoing menopause.
This research provides valuable insights into the experiences of menopausal women in the workplace, emphasising the need for greater awareness, support, and organisational policies. We have two practical guides that can support people managers and people professional in managing menopause at work. As we move forward, addressing the challenges of menopause in the workplace will not only benefit women directly impacted but will contribute to creating more inclusive and supportive work environments for all.