Lawyer Karen Holden from A City Law Firm outlines the reasons employers should take action to retain women going through the menopause.
The menopause affects 51% of the population and is increasingly under the spotlight for the range of adverse effects it can have on women going through it. The menopause age range can be between 40-55 years old (average 51) and this age bracket makes up a large percentage of the UK workforce. According to NHS Employers reports, there are 3.5 million women over 50 in the workplace in the UK and women make up 47% of the workforce, according to the 2017 Government Women’s Transition Report.
The effects of the menopause, which every woman will go through at some point, can severely impact on quality of life. Anxiety, depression, mood swings, hot flushes, sweats and insomnia are just some of the symptoms that can take hold. There are many physical and mental signs associated with this transition period in women’s’ lives and it can, for some, be a difficult, stressful period which can last for years.
The age range of women impacted by the menopause can see women in senior roles be grasped by anxiety, depression and confidence issues which can see them struggling and either resigning from their roles or becoming increasing sick or unable to cope. According to the well being of women study, 900,000 UK women resigned from their job as a result of menopause.
The physical effects can also lead to increased self-awareness and discomfort whilst at work. Many women feel embarrassed to speak about the effects that it can have on them and the negative impact it can have on their day to day lives. Many of us fear discussing personal issues with our managers, but discussing something so sensitive and which potentially could lead to misunderstanding or to it being dismissed as unimportant can be demoralising and stressful. One in four are reported to be leaving their roles as a consequence, which impacts the employer, the employee and the productivity of the workforce.
However, it’s a topic that is not openly discussed and may employers are left unaware of the reasons a person left and so are unable to help them. We need to stop this remaining a taboo topic.
Menopause is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, but an employee who is put at a disadvantage because of their menopause symptoms could feel discriminated against and potentially cite, for example, age discrimination. Statistics from employment tribunals show that there has been an increase in claims bought by employees referencing the menopause. Cases have risen from 5 in 2018, 6 in 2019 , 16 in 2020 to 10 in the first six months of 2021. Whilst still very small numbers , we are seeing more discussions and public articles and talks on this subject. Removing the mystery and awkwardness so women can discuss and admit the medical, physical and emotional symptoms around this will, it is believed, free many employees currently suffering.
The Government is currently looking at whether enough is being done to address these issues in the workplace . On 23rd July 2021, the Women and Equalities Committee launched a new inquiry seeking to understand whether current legislation goes far enough to support women experiencing the menopause at work. This led to an enquiry into current legislation and whether this protects employees from discrimination in the workplace associated with the menopause. It also considered what more the UK Government could do to go further.
Employers seeking to protect the health and wellbeing of their staff are already taking steps to address this within their organisations. There is a slow recognition now that the mental health impact can be detrimental and the physical effects can create discomfort. As this becomes more prominently discussed, employers are understanding it is affecting their workforce and their productivity and is not something they can simply ignore. Working environments in which this can be discussed and acknowledged are key to retaining staff, avoiding claims and resignations, meaning prolonged productivity and possibly more committed and loyal staff.
A guide as to what the employer should be doing includes:
1. Updated employment policies
Proactive steps such as menopause policies being added to workplace policies are highly encouraged. The policies can enable adjustments to be made for the employee which will help them with coping with their difficult symptoms and feel comfortable in raising them with managers.
Transparent and available workplace policies set a precedent for how staff and employers can and should operate and treat each other and offer clear guidance and support and clarity. These should be accompanied by clear sick pay policies and procedures and mental health and well being policies.
2. Reasonable adjustments
An employer may not realise it can take just small adjustments, such as desk fans, water coolers, employee wellbeing mentors and flexible working to make all the difference and retain senior staff it has trained, nurtured and wants to retain. These small changes can be made to make the transition period and the mental and physical effects bearable for the team, but only if they are understood and openly recognised.
Training for managers to understand the impact of the menopause on staff and the issues that it can prevent is helpful and shows a clear understanding of the challenges that employees can face during this period. An open door policy and people trained to understand the symptoms, with a clear avenue to talk to someone offering reassurance of confidentiality and protection, are essential. Employers engaging with these small changes are more likely to retain employees, especially of this age range who will have workplace and life experience that benefit their roles, the employer and new generations entering the workforce and so as such are harder to replace.
Employers could provide information or links or literature on how staff can get the support they need. This will include external sources and government sites, but it may be a good idea to encourage informal internal support from managers or other employees.
The Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee Caroline Nokes has been quoted as saying that excluding menopausal women from the workplace is detrimental to our economy, our society and our place on the world stage.
A change of perception and a willingness to include a menopause policy will undoubtedly help not only the employee but the employer. Small adjustments to take account of the adverse effects on employees can be the difference between a menopausal woman staying or leaving her role. Overall, acknowledging the importance of wellbeing and protecting that in the workplace will have positive results. Employers do not have to incur large costs to address this. All it needs is a review of policies; some bolt-on training; compassion and understanding and a clear and open dialogue with employees.
By supporting your employees through the menopause, your company will surely benefit from increased productivity and commitment and you will have reduced sickness absence and employee turnover which will save recruitment and re-training costs.
This will also prevent resignations and enhance women in more senior roles and career progression, creating a company that is proud to promote and thrive on diversity. This will help to close the gender gap. Avoiding discrimination or claims avoids business distraction and addresses legal action and associated costs.
Nurturing and promoting what would be an age- and gender-inclusive workplace will help you not only retain but attract the experience and expertise that men and women of all ages can bring.
Moreover, a recent report showed people are 12% more productive if they are happy and are four times more likely to stay in their roles.
*Karen Holden is founder of A City Law Firm. Having been admitted to the roll in 2005. Karen was invited and given freedom of the City in 2019 for her work in Equality as such is part of the Guild of Freeman.