Why Talking about the Menopause is a Must
Twenty years ago, we never talked about the menopause. We euphemistically talked about ‘the change’, but never talked openly about the transition that affects 51% of our population, including women, trans men, and non-binary colleagues, at some point in their lives. Along with this were jokes about hot flushes and accompanying elbow nudges and eye rolls, leading to unhelpful stereotyping of women going through this, very natural, and sometimes challenging, transition.
The world has changed, and this is no longer an acceptable or smart way to operate.
Just over a century ago the average life expectancy for a woman was 54. Thanks to medical advancements and lifestyle, in 2023 a woman’s life expectancy is now 83. This means that on average women could live over 30 years post menopause.
We know that ‘50+’ women are the fastest growing segment of the workplace and that it’s typical for women to go through the menopause between 45 and 55. We also know that 10% of women going through menopause will exit the workplace during this time due to challenging symptoms. This is a statistic that we need to change.
Menopause symptoms, impact 4 out of 5 women. There are approximately 4.5 million women in the workforce going through menopause in the UK and even more going through the perimenopause. This presents a serious talent issue, as we now retire at 67 and cannot afford to have a mass exodus of colleagues leaving in their 40s and 50s. These colleagues are at the height of their careers and have a great deal of experience and insight that cannot be replaced quickly.
The cost of replacing and upskilling a colleague is the tip of the iceberg. We know that it costs approximately £30k to hire, induct and upskill any new employee. For senior leaders this is much more, twice their annual salary. But what is the cost of how they feel when they leave our organisations? Have they left feeling unsupported? Judged? Misunderstood? Alone? How does this reflect on us as an employer and on our brand?
Losing experienced colleagues not only creates operational issues, but also greater diversity& equality challenges, within and outside of our organisations. Women exiting the workplace are forfeiting pay and benefits and ultimately this can lead to pension poverty in the longer term. We know that:
Approximately 80% of people going through the menopause are in employment.
14% have gone part time.
8% have decided against applying for a promotion.
3% have retired.
13% are considering retiring.
Menopause and the array of physical and psychological symptoms it can present, often feel like huge mountain to climb on top of the other challenges that exist with being in the sandwich generation. Many people coping with the perimenopause, menopause/post-menopause still have children at home, are caring for elderly relatives and have challenging careers. The menopause feels like final straw and it’s leading us to ‘lean out’, choosing less stressful career options, or deciding we need time away from our working lives completely. This clearly has negative impacts on individuals and organisations.
Ultimately, this is an issue employers need to understand and ‘normalise’ through discussion and support. There is a duty of care for all employers to support colleagues going through the menopause.
We are currently seeing a 44% increase, year on year, in industrial tribunals citing menopause. Even though women bring unfair dismissal cases due to the protected characteristics of age, sex or disability, there is clear link to menopause in these instances. This is only set to grow rapidly as we talk more about menopause and start to reassess what is acceptable within our workplaces. Menopause is not currently a protected characteristic but there is pressure to make this happen.
As well as unfair dismissal, organisations need also to be aware of the exposure to constructive dismissal. Even if a colleague chooses to leave their employer, it doesn’t mean the organisation is not a risk. If a colleague can prove that no support was provided, there is a case. Doing nothing is no longer an option.
Employers need to ask:
Is menopause, something we talk about openly in our culture? Is there a culture of trust and support?
Do we give colleagues time to share their issues and ask for help if they need it?
Do we upskill our leaders so they understand the facts, and myths, about menopause and the policies, guidelines, and practices they can utilise to support colleagues?
Do we provide resources for all colleagues, so that they can be informed, empowered, and keep contributing?
How do we make this happen in a way that supports our operation and our colleagues?
The benefits of getting this right are clear:
Currently 1 in 5 women take time off to cope with menopausal symptoms but most do not feel comfortable talking to their leaders about the true reasons for this absence. 1 in 50 take long-term sickness absence related to menopause. By helping leaders reflect on how they can support their colleagues we can reduce this absence, making reasonable adjustments that make sense and enable on-going dialogue. When this happens, it allows us to adjust support as it is required and build relationships filled with trust.
Improved diversity & equality.
By talking more openly about menopause and encouraging openness and collaboration, we will retain female colleagues. This is vital if we are to provide female role models, greater innovation, encourage different perspectives, and have healthy levels of challenge.
Better employee relations.
If leaders support colleagues going through the menopause in a consistent way this will impact the culture of the organisation and behavioural standards we expect. This will ultimately result in a more positive employee relations environment with fewer grievances and employment tribunals.
Enhanced employee engagement.
All colleagues are more emotionally engaged when they feel valued, included, focused, and inspired. When colleagues feel they have a voice, a valid contribution to make and expertise that is valued by their organisation, they will thrive and perform at higher levels. Rather than feeling irrelevant and side-lined, colleagues understand their importance to the organisation, and this helps them bring their best, even when they don’t feel 100%.
Many organisations haven’t seen menopause awareness as a priority and hopefully this explains why it is. If you retain just one colleague as a result of your menopause awareness efforts, it will be totally worthwhile, and pay for itself.
More importantly, the message you send to all colleagues is “we care about you and your well-being.” It’s definitely time to talk about the menopause.
Share this post: