Imagine, for a moment, that there was a health problem that affected a major part of your workforce. And that the symptoms had a detrimental impact on confidence, energy levels, mood, concentration, creativity and productivity. You’d be concerned, wouldn’t you? You’d want to do something to support your staff so that they can keep contributing to the success of your business, right?
Well… there is a health problem that affects millions of women in the UK workforce. And yet, most employers appear to be unaware, unwilling or unable, at present, to do anything to support those affected. This health condition is the Menopause.
How big is the problem?
There are an estimated 5 million women aged 40-55 in the UK in the workplace. About 80% of them will suffer some symptoms of menopause that can negatively impact on their performance and career potential. Furthermore, the latest Government Equalities Office Report estimates that women aged 50 and over are by far the fastest-growing group of workers in the British economy. So this issue isn’t going away but menopause in the worplace remains taboo.
Interesting research was published by Professor Amanda Griffiths et al from Nottingham University in 2013. They surveyed 900 women between 45-55 and the responses were that;
40% thought their work was suffering
Only 25% had discussed it with their line manager
53% had no control over their environment
40% were unable to negotiate working hours
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The study concluded:
“Appropriate support from employers is essential. It is likely to reduce the risk of stress, help maintain performance, enhance employee loyalty and facilitate continued participation in the workforce.”
In her 2015 report to the government titled ‘A new vision for older workers’, Dr Ros Altmann, CBE, commented that menopause is still largely ignored in workplace thinking. She pointed out that there is little support for women going through this phase of their lives.
One of her conclusions was:
‘if performance were affected by symptoms that could be attributed to a different medical condition, there would be far more acceptance and allowances made.”
Nuffield Health results
In 2014, Nuffield Health undertook a survey of over 3000 women aged between 40-65. Here’s what they found about menopause in the workplace:
Over half said they were depressed.
More than a third suffered anxiety.
over 72% of female workers having symptoms said they felt unsupported at work.
1 in 10 had considered leaving their job.
Most shockingly, almost half the women surveyed did not know their symptoms could be due to the menopause – citing that they were too young or too stressed.
Dr Julie Ayres, Specialist in Menopause and PMS at Nuffield Health Leeds Hospital, said:
“The issue needs to be dragged into the 21st century. Increasingly employers are beginning to take employee health and wellbeing seriously, with numerous initiatives to help improve health and fitness. Yet clearly the menopause remains taboo. Until we shine a spotlight on the subject and try to tackle some of the difficulties that women are facing at work, we stand to lose experienced and talented women who should be at the peak of their career, rather than facing forced retirement or feeling alienated.”
How does menopause affect women’s performance?
Women at this time of their lives are more likely to;
1/ Take sick leave. Women are more likely to stay off work if they’re feeling exhausted, they haven’t slept well, they have hot flushes or bad PMS, or they’re feeling anxious or depressed. A survey conducted by the NUT in 2014 found that out of those who had taken sick leave due to menopausal symptoms, over 80% hadn’t disclosed the real reason.
2/ Suffer from stress. Women can be less resilient to stress during peri-menopause. According to the Health & Safety Executive in 2015, midlife women report more work related stress than other groups.
3/ Suffer brain fog and memory loss that can severely hamper productivity, creativity and problem solving.
4/ Experience mood swings and irritability which can affect relationships at work. Someone who may have been very sociable can suddenly become isolated and not a great team player.
5/ Lose confidence. Formerly highly competent women can become insecure and lose confidence in their ability at work.
6/ Experience feelings of anxiety and/or depression. This can reduce motivation and make a woman want to withdraw.
7/ Suffer embarrassing hot flushes, which may result in her being much less likely to participate in meetings or discussions. And if a woman feels embarrassed or unable to ask for support, then that can add to problems of communication and trust.
Further risks for organisations
In the 2014 NUT survey, 12.6% of participants believed they or a colleague had been subjected to detrimental treatment for reasons related to the menopause.
In the 2012 Merchant v British Telecommunications Plc case, a tribunal held that direct sex discrimination had occurred. An employer had failed to treat an employee’s menopause in the same way as other medical conditions when applying its performance management policy.
Whilst there is currently no specific legislation in place for menopause in the workplace, there are regulations that require employers to protect the health, safety and welfare of all their employees.
How much does it cost to lose a female employee?
Numerous pieces of research, including the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), suggest that it costs on average between 6 to 9 months’ salary to replace an employee in terms of recruitment and training costs.
This represents the percentages for recruitment costs, training costs and a temporary loss of productivity during this time. These numbers are only averages across industries. In most cases they don’t account for lost management time through interview process, loss of knowledge capital and of course the loss of clients.
What are the solutions to support menopause in the workplace?
Introducing menopause in the workplace policies and other best practice is straightforward. It is something all responsible companies should be considering.
In order to reduce the impact on both the female employee and her performance, there are 2 key areas that need to be addressed; Employee Education and Organisational Support.
Educating and empowering individuals with the knowledge they need about hormones and the menopause. Give them simple and practical tools so that they can regain control and thrive both at work and in their personal lives.
This would cover all aspects of hormone health including nutrition, stress, sleep, exercise, environment, supplements, and treatment options.
Understanding the impact of menopause on the organisation and raising awareness of the issues amongst line managers.
Commitment, from the top down, to the support of female employees at this critical stage of their lives.
Practical support to help women maximise their wellbeing and performance. This could include access to education, good nutrition options at work, encouraging movement, flexible working options, stress management at work (meditation, yoga etc), providing a support network to encourage open discussion, and even environmental control (temperature, ventilation, desk top fans, cold drinking water).
Issues relating to women in the workplace are rising to the top of the corporate and political agenda at the moment. They include various aspects from how to deal with issues relating to the gender pay gap, to how to ensure appropriate balance on Boards, or how to handle claims of harassment, discrimination or bullying. One issue that has not attracted a huge amount of attention is the impact that menopause has on female workers.
If you want the women in your workforce to thrive with your support; if you want to be seen as a desirable, forward-thinking employer; and if you want to attract and retain the highest calibre of female recruits to your business; then there has never been a better time to explore what your company could be doing to support female employees before, during and after menopause.
Nicki Williams is a qualified Nutritional Therapist, speaker and founder of Happy Hormones for Life, helping women to get back to their absolute best – slimmer, energized, more productive and in full control of their hormones!
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