Women over 50 are the fastest growing sector of the workforce. With the average age of menopause 51, many women will be at the peak of their careers whilst juggling menopause, work and family life. In the UK, research shows that 60% of women aged 45-55 experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work. (1)
Associated with ageing, loss of “relevance and viability”, menopause has a bad rap in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, many women experience discomfort exacerbated by ignorance and prejudice. A recent announcement in the UK by Labour to roll out policies supporting menopause friendly workplaces to all firms with more than 250 staff, is welcome. (2)
In October 2019, recent research in Australia has culminated in the release of a Menopause Information Pack for Organisations (MIPO) that supports managers, workplaces and women to open the dialogue, reduce stigma and create menopause-friendly workplaces.
“When we think about menopause in the workplace, there’s often a focus on how menopause affects people’s work. But in fact, what we found was how the workplace environment positively or negatively affected women’s experience of menopause.”
Professor Kathleen Riach, Professor of Management, Monash Business School, Monash University
Some of the issues that were brought to light in the 6 year study with over 2000 women was the broader issue of older women often being considered invisible and ignored as a valuable pool of talent in their workplace. The pressure on women to perform at work and the pace that’s set, leaves little room for the accommodation of menopausal symptoms.
To break the cultural taboo of speaking about menopause and dealing with some feelings like shame and embarrassment requires a level of sensitivity for all stakeholders. It’s a two way street. As organisations start to future proof their business by offering sensitive support, women respond with loyalty by “being remarkably creative, resilient and inventive at negotiating menopause in the workplace.”(3)
A review of resources available to organisations offer 5 guidelines for a menopause-friendly workplace:
- Flexibility of work: working from home, taking breaks if and when needed, and negotiating time off for medical appointments. (Why would menopause be any different from taking time off for other health related concerns, treatments or bereavements?)
- Climate controlled environments: availability of fans, or temperature control and breathable uniforms.
- Training and support offered to managers and supervisors enabling sensitive conversations about menopause with confidence.
- Easy access to water coolers.
- Workplaces conducting risk assessments to understand what is needed, providing information and policies that take into account menopause. (4)