Amy Prendergast from the Retail Trust tells workingwise.co.uk about the Trust’s upcoming event for HR leaders on diversity, inclusion and wellbeing, including the menopause.
With so many of our colleagues working through extraordinary financial, physical and emotional pressures as a result of the pandemic, the future success of the retail industry now rests heavily on the hope, health and happiness of its workforce. Creating workplace cultures where every employee feels listened to, supported and valued is not only the right thing to do but will also lead to better employee morale and engagement and a healthier workforce, with fewer sick days, higher staff retention rates and wider talent attraction.
This is one of the reasons why we’re running an event for HR leaders on 9th November that will ask retail employers whether they are really doing enough to support mental health, ensure inclusivity and build rewarding careers. And we want to make it clear within this event the menopause is one issue that retail employers can no longer ignore as part of all of this.
Well-meaning employers from across every sector can often regard the menopause as such an intensely personal issue that it’s out of bounds to approach a worker who is suffering at work, as is often the case. 76% of women feel their symptoms cause problems in the workplace, according to The Menopause Survey 2018, which also found that that 20% of menopausal women have considered quitting their job as a result, rising to 44% of those experiencing the most severe symptoms. A separate report, by BUPA and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), estimated that 900,000 women have left their jobs, due to menopausal symptoms, while the Newson Health and Wellbeing Centre found that just over three-quarters of women reported that their employers offered no information or support around the menopause.
This is, of course, completely wrong and shows how the menopause is far too often having an unnecessarily negative impact at work. Not only are menopausal women now the UK’s fastest growing work demographic but women also make up as much as 60% of the British retail sector, so as an industry we certainly have a real responsibility to step up and support those experiencing the perimenopause and menopause, many of whom will be at the peak of their careers and under other pressures. And there are some key adjustments retailers should be making to ensure that these employees feel supported.
For example, providing desk fans or spare uniforms can be useful for women who experience hot flushes, which usually come on without warning. It’s also worth allowing women to leave meetings without question if they need to, as a walk outside in the fresh air can help to reduce the intensity of hot flushes and associated distress.
It’s important employers understand though that there are a myriad of symptoms of the perimenopause and menopause that go beyond hot flushes. It can also cause some women to feel very low, anxious and tearful and performance at work can be negatively impacted by fatigue, brain fog, or other physical and cognitive issues. But these are all completely normal symptoms and any menopause-related performance issues should be treated the same as any other type of health-related performance problem, with reasonable adjustments to support women through the worst of their symptoms, such as time off for medical appointments or changes to a rota when symptoms are particularly severe, as well as encouragement to speak openly about why they’re struggling and what they need from their employer to stay present and engaged.
The Retail Trust also provides wellbeing services to support women and their partners who are struggling with the emotional impact.
Ultimately, it’s important that women who are struggling have the same support as a colleague with any other kind of health condition. All line managers should have clear guidance on which adjustments to make and it’s also best practice for employers to make it clear in the employee handbook that time off for a woman dealing with menopause to see their GP or a specialist is acceptable.
It certainly has been encouraging to see some retailers recently begin to promise better support here, with Tesco pledging to introduce a more breathable fabric to its uniforms next year that will help women cope with hot flushes, and ASOS about to offer paid leave for a wider range of health-related issues, including the menopause.
But this is not a woman-only issue and, as an industry, we also have a duty to ensure that we do what we can to meet the needs of women who are affected, but to also create more open and supportive workplace cultures to normalise what is a very normal part of life. This means every one of us understanding and talking about the menopause at work, and things businesses should consider here include offering training for line managers as well as drop-in sessions with a menopause specialist who can offer advice and support to anyone affected, including men.
We’ll be speaking to TV presenter Davina McCall at The Retail Trust Leaders’ Summit in November about her own experiences in dealing with the menopause and reducing the stigma that exists around it in order to explore other things that employers should be doing, and we believe events like this are another important way of sharing best practice and breaking down the taboo.
*Amy Prendergast is transformation and operations director at the Retail Trust.