World Menopause Day: we need to maintain momentum

By Rachel Suff and Claire McCartney, advisers at the CIPD 

The menopause is an urgent workplace issue that all employers should be taking seriously. Half the workforce is female, which means half the workforce will go through the menopause at some stage. Building awareness and openness around the menopause and providing support for those experiencing symptoms could transform the working lives of millions of women now and in the future. It could also mean employers greatly enhance their ability to tap into a valuable pool of female talent.

Earlier in the year, the CIPD worked with a wide range of experts and practitioners to publish a suite of free downloadable resources to help organisations to create menopause-friendly workplaces. Since then, we – and others working in this space – have noticed a distinct shift in the level of interest about the menopause on the part of employers, as well as in society more generally. At the Labour Party Conference in September, Dawn Butler MP, Labour’s Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, announced that the next Labour Government will require all large employers to introduce a menopause workplace policy to break the stigma associated with the menopause. Labour’s press notice cited the CIPD’s research which found that three in five working women between the age of 45 and 55 with menopausal symptoms experience a negative impact on them at work.

How do you create a menopause-friendly workplace?

It’s very positive that Labour recognises how important it is to support working women who are experiencing the menopause transition. In our view, the menopause has been largely overlooked as a workplace issue for far too long. However, it’s for every organisation to decide how best they can develop a framework to create a menopause-friendly workplace, and requiring all large employers to have a compulsory menopause policy may be too prescriptive for some. A policy could risk being left on the shelf, and it’s the actions on the ground that make the real difference.

Earlier in the year, when we polled HR professionals, just 1 in 10 told us that their organisation has in place any kind of policy, guidance or framework relating to the menopause. We really hope this figure has increased – we are certainly detecting a lot of interest in the guidance we have created and believe it’s helping to bridge the gap in the availability of workplace support for women.

Essentially, employers should support people with menopausal symptoms in the same way they would support someone with any other health condition. Information and education about the menopause should be included as part of the organisation’s diversity and inclusion training for the whole workforce, and health and well-being policies should signpost to the support available. Some employers use health and well-being days to promote advice on the menopause, and recently the CIPD invited an expert in from Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace to talk about the menopause at its own health and well-being event. The very successful and lively session was facilitated by an interested male member of our team – a reminder that the menopause is not only a female issue and many men could have a family member or friend experiencing the menopause.

Start the conversation – and keep it going!

Six months ago, our research also showed that only a quarter of women who had been unable to go into work due to menopausal symptoms had felt able to tell their line manager the real reason for their absence. This underlines the stigma that still exists. We hope that the increased openness about the menopause is starting to boost the confidence of women with symptoms to raise the issue and access the support they need. So many women have told us through the course of our research that a few small practical adjustments at work have made the world of difference to their working life.

Managers have a key role to play in opening up the culture and encouraging a working environment whereby people feel able to discuss their health concerns. A line manager will typically be the first port of call if someone needs a change to their work or working hours because they are experiencing menopausal symptoms. And so it’s really important that managers have the knowledge and confidence to not shy away from potentially sensitive issues and feel comfortable talking to employees about the menopause. Therefore, employers should ensure that all managers are trained and have a broad understanding of how menopausal symptoms can affect employees’ interaction with work.  They also need to be knowledgeable about what adjustments may be helpful to support women who are experiencing particular symptoms.

The reluctance felt by many women to discuss menopausal symptoms is understandable, but the menopause transition need not be an awkward topic. We need to normalise the conversation about the menopause in the same way many workplaces have begun to break down the barriers and foster inclusion around mental health issues. Join us in helping to build on the momentum that has been created so far, and keep the conversation going about the menopause. The more we talk about the menopause, the more women with symptoms will feel able to seek the support they need to thrive at work.

Download the free CIPD printable resources to help your organisation create a menopause-friendly workplace: there are guides for HR professionals and line managers, practical tips to make reasonable adjustments, as well as posters and leaflets:

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  • I really enjoyed reading this article. I have to admit, I started off feeling awkward about the topic but as I read on, I was coming to terms with how important this topic was and the need to break the stigma for a more inclusive and prosperous work place. Thank you CIPD.