The menopause is still a taboo subject for many women, but it’s not a women’s issue. Menopause is a workplace issue.
The menopause is normal, a fact of life. But in many workplaces, it is a silent issue. Women are loathe to tell their employer they are experiencing symptoms. Women don’t realise they are legally entitled to support, and employers don’t realise they have a duty of care that extends to women who are experiencing menopause.
Everyone experiences a different menopause, and everyone should make their own decision about how to experience it. Employers have been slow to recognise the menopause as an issue that they ought to consider when designing workplaces, supporting employees or developing working practices. It’s an issue many managers openly admit they don’t know enough about, and employers must work to educate their staff about the menopause itself and the duty on them to provide adequate support and adjustments.
As union reps and members, what can we do to persuade employers to make suitable adjustments to improve the lives of working women? How can we change organisational cultures so that women feel supported and can discuss their symptoms with managers?
We have an ageing workforce with more women staying in work than ever before. There are 3.5 million menopausal women in work, and they are the fastest growing part of the UK workforce. Three quarters of women experience menopausal symptoms with a quarter experiencing substantial or serious symptoms.
One in four menopausal women have considered leaving work and it costs on average £30,000 to replace someone who leaves. For employers, there is a business case to support, provide flexibility to and therefore retain a woman employee who is experiencing menopause. Legally, employers have a duty of care to their workers and they must make reasonable adjustments for women under the Equality Act 2010. Finally, enabling dignity at work is simply the right thing to do. While it might make financial sense and there is a legal obligation, it’s simply time that employers woke up to this significant issue, which is impacting a growing part of the workforce.
At the end of 2019 we surveyed Community members to learn about their experience of menopause in the workplace. The survey found that many members want to see a change in the way the menopause is treated at work.
Members described high levels of anxiety and depression, they described feeling unable to talk to line managers or colleagues about what they were experiencing. Women felt they were unsupported, pushed out of work, unable to access training or promotion opportunities. Women described being laughed at by colleagues. So many women didn’t realise they were in menopause for many years, worrying they were seriously ill for another reason.
But the menopause isn’t just a women’s issue. Men are often in supportive roles with women family members at home, working with women colleagues who are experiencing menopause or in line management positions and potentially personally liable. We need men to understand better what the menopause looks like, and how they should best support the women around them as well as helping to create the change in workplaces. As we outlined in our new equalities strategy, achieving fairer workplaces is not something we can do individually. We need to work collectively, no matter where your workplace is or to which sector you belong, to create a more equal and fairer world of work.
Today, on International Women’s Day, we are releasing a pack of resources to educate and support members about this important workplace issue. Unions have a key role here; reps can support members and press employers to act to make workplaces more menopause-friendly and these resources will give the grounding to enable that work.