By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development & Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits
With symptoms ranging from mood swings and insomnia to headaches and heart palpitations, the menopause is a big challenge for millions of women, at work as well as at home. According to one recent study, 59% of working women who experience menopausal symptoms say they have a negative impact on their ability to do their jobs.1
But menopausal women are a hugely valuable business resource; with a wealth of experience behind them, they are often close to the pinnacle of their careers. So, failing to offer the support they need to perform well at work represents a potentially massive cost to employers.
That’s why Generali UK Employee Benefits and Bupa recently co-hosted a webinar for those Line Managers and HR professionals keen to understand how to support menopausal employees. In turn, ensuring individuals continue to thrive in the workplace.
“Menopause is not just a female issue; it’s a business issue,” said Bupa Health Clinics’ Commercial Director Alaana Woods, who led a panel debate with experts from Bupa, the CIPD and also Channel 4, the latter having received wide praise for its forward-thinking approach to supporting menopausal employees.
“Until very recently though, menopause was often considered a taboo subject in the workplace,” continues Alaana. “Thankfully, it’s now firmly on the agenda for many businesses, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”
What is the menopause?
In medical terms, the menopause may be defined in layman’s terms as ‘when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally’.2 It’s a process that can last for several years.
“Menopause is a natural process during which a woman’s oestrogen levels decline,” said webinar participant Dr Samantha Wild, Women’s Health Clinical Lead at Bupa. “Most women start to experience it from the age of 45, but one in 20 reach the menopause between 40 and 45 and some women experience the menopause in their 30s. While the hormonal fluctuations usually last from 12 months to four years, they can also last for 10 years or more.”
And for many women, the resulting symptoms can make life very difficult during that time.
“Most women experience some symptoms, with three out of four women reporting hot flushes,” added Samantha. “Often, the emotional and psychological symptoms are the worst. However, embarrassment stops women asking for help, particularly in the workplace.”
How can employers help?
Perhaps the first step towards developing a supportive working environment for menopausal women is to show that they can be open and honest about what they are going through.
For Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser at the CIPD, ensuring line managers are equipped to offer appropriate support is crucial to achieving this.
Yet 36% of the attendees at Generali UK’s recent webinar said their line managers were not ‘approachable to have a conversation about menopause’. And a further 46% said they were only ‘somewhat’ approachable on the subject.
“Line managers are responsible for the day-to-day health and wellbeing of their teams, so they need training and guidance on how to support women experiencing the menopause,” said Claire.
“There are really compelling business reasons to help women through the menopause, so you need men on board too, including good role models at the top of the business. Otherwise, you could lose that talent at the peak of their knowledge and experience, as well as risking your reputation as a good employer.”
Other tips to emerge from the webinar discussion include:
- Use communication campaigns to raise awareness of the support available, via various channels.
- Signpost to support services. For example, EAP and Virtual GP services – either standalone or embedded within group risk or healthcare products.
- Appoint ‘menopause champions’ within the business.
- Use inclusive language to make men feel part of the discussion.
- Offer flexible working conditions such as staggered start and finish times.
- Make menopause part of your sickness absence policy.
Case study – Channel 4
In 2019, Channel 4 launched a ground-breaking menopause policy “to support employees experiencing menopausal symptoms whilst providing guidance to colleagues and line managers about how they can be supportive to those transitioning through it”.3
Among other things, this policy allows women to take paid leave if they feel unwell due to menopausal symptoms, something less than a third of businesses currently offer, according to the results of the webinar poll.
It also aims to encourage a better understanding of the menopause among the wider workplace community.
“We recognised that there was a big need for education as well as practical support,” said Navene Alim, Founder and Co-Chair of in-house gender equality network 4Women.
“Menopause affects men too, whether that is via a wife, a sister, or a colleague. But women’s health is often associated with shame, and that really needs to change.”
*To receive a recording of the 40-minute webinar ‘Menopause: what every manager needs to know’ – and/or a 10-minute edited version for Line Manager training purposes -please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Generali UK has partnered with Bupa to help fund wellbeing services, on behalf of group income protection clients, where a specific need is identified, including Bupa’s health assessments and Menopause Plan.
1 Forth, a survey of 1,000 UK employed (full-time, part-time) women aged 45 and over, between 29th – 30th of January 2019 https://www.forthwithlife.co.uk/blog/menopause-in-the-workplace/
2 NHS website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/
3 Channel 4 press release: https://www.channel4.com/press/news/channel-4-launches-dedicated-menopause-policy