When women are supported through menopause, they are more likely to feel valued by their employer.
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- Menopause affects women who are often at the peak of their careers, usually between the ages of 45 and 55.
- As well as the personal health and well-being costs to women, there are broader economic implications for employees.
- More can be done to support menopausal women in the workplace and create more diverse and inclusive working environments.
Women of menopausal age account for the fastest growth in the workforce – and they are staying in employment more than ever before. Typically at the peak of their careers, these women are highly experienced, skilled and considered role models to more junior staff members. At the same time, however, women in this age group frequently lack the support needed to manage menopausal symptoms, leading many to reduce their responsibilities at work or leave the workplace entirely.
From physical symptoms such as headaches, hot flushes and fatigue to mental health impacts such as low mood and reduced self-esteem, women experiencing menopause can encounter multiple and often overlapping symptoms.
As well as impacting quality of life and the ability of sufferers to carry out routine tasks in their daily lives, the menopausal transition can affect performance at work and, consequently, opportunities for career development and progression.
Indeed, the considerable stigma attached to the process of menopause – especially for younger women, women from minority ethnic backgrounds and LGBT+ people – tends to exacerbate the negative experiences of certain women in the workplace. Among those women aged between 45 and 55 experiencing menopausal symptoms, a staggering three-fifths (59%) report negative impacts of symptoms in the workplace.
The economic implications
In addition to the personal costs to women themselves, there are much wider economic implications associated with the failure to support menopausal employees. In the UK alone, 14 million working days are estimated to be lost each year due to menopause and perimenopause, with 1 in 10 women experiencing menopausal symptoms having left their role in 2022. As well as a loss of talent in the labour market, there are also unexpected costs to individual employers. Statistical work conducted by Oxford Economics, for instance, suggests that the cost of replacing a woman who stops working as a result of difficult menopausal symptoms is more than £30,000.
Pressure is mounting on governments and employers to act. For instance, the UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee’s expansive inquiry into menopause in the workplace presented several important recommendations to policymakers, including the appointment of a Menopause Ambassador and the development of model menopause policies for implementation across organisations nationwide.
Many businesses are seizing the initiative too, through the provision of more flexible working arrangements and the introduction of a dedicated menopause policy, which is bringing about genuinely positive change to the experiences of women in the workplace. The increased proliferation of free sanitary products, for instance, has been instrumental in fostering supportive working environments, challenging the damaging stigma associated with menstruation and improving general employee health and wellbeing.
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Key ways to support women going through menopause
However, there remains much more for us all to do to support menopausal women in the workplace and to create more diverse and inclusive working environments. As well as the positive impact this will have on individuals themselves, there is clearly a significant economic imperative.
- Inclusive menopause policy: We must encourage organizations to share and benefit from, best practices and expertise in inclusive menopause policy across key sectors. This means providing education and awareness about menopause to employees at all levels as well as continuously monitoring and evaluating policies that reflect the latest research and data into menopause and women’s health.
- Allyship programmes: Organizations must be inspired to develop allyship programmes where employees can share experiences, resources and support. This could include training webinars, symptom checklists, knowledge toolkits, 1:1 sessions with managers or support staff, and even menopause first aiders.
- Inclusive working cultures: Employers should promote more inclusive working cultures. This is fundamentally about encouraging honest conversations between employees and more senior colleagues to discuss working arrangements and the impact of menopausal symptoms on performance at work.
Taken together, these steps have the potential to bolster the skills, experience and potential of those experiencing the menopause. More than this, their delivery will help to increase retention, reduce absenteeism and improve productivity at a time of deep economic uncertainty. When women are supported through menopause, they are more likely to feel valued by their employers and encouraged to perform better at work.
Fundamentally, though, this is about equality, to which we all have a duty to aspire. Without ambitious and holistic protections in place to support women in the workplace, perimenopausal, menopausal and postmenopausal people will continue to face barriers to successful employment. To that end, we must be determined in our pursuit of gender equality so that no employee feels isolated or disadvantaged because of menopause.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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