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Ill-health top reason UK women expect to leave work before retirement

Almost a third (29%) of UK women expect to leave work before state pension age, with 42% expecting this to be due to health or wellbeing, according to a new study from the British Standards Institution (BSI). 

Over half (54%) said they would find it difficult to raise health and wellbeing issues, including menopause, with their employer, although the gender of their manager did have an impact. 

More women said they would feel comfortable bringing up health issues with a female manager (74%), than a male manager (38%). 

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Kate Field, global head of health, safety and wellbeing at the BSI, said all managers should be trained on how to conduct helpful conversations around women’s health. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “As a starting point, HR departments can prioritise building empathy and training leaders, both male and female, to create environments in which employees feel safe raising issues.  

“Educational programmes can also work well here, for example, offering training to all employees on menopause-related health considerations, their potential impact on work, and the support that those experiencing menopause may want.” 

Gaele Lalahy, chief operating officer of menopause support app Balance, said employers need to eradicate taboos around menopause to make women feel more comfortable raising issues at work. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “There needs to be a cultural change in normalising conversation about perimenopause and menopause. 

“The menopause isn’t simply ‘women’s problems’, and banter or discriminatory remarks about the menopause simply aren't acceptable in the workplace.  

“Managers need to be trained and equipped with the right language to have these conversations so employees feel comfortable in approaching them in the first place.” 

More than two thirds (67%) of women said experienced female mentors can benefit the development of younger women, yet less than half (46%) have had the opportunity to learn from them themselves.  

While 72% of UK women would feel most comfortable disclosing menopause issues to a dedicated colleague, such as a menopause advocate, 60% were unaware of any menopause policy in their organisation. 

Field said women going through menopause require individual support, as relayed in the BSI’s guidance. 

She said: “Older women, especially those experiencing menopause, may have psychological needs that other colleagues do not have.  

“Every woman is different, as is every workplace, so the starting point can be around asking the question of women: what do they want?  

“Consultation and participation can build engaged and supportive workforces. 

“More broadly, small adjustments to the workplace can also help, like the installation of cooler, temperature-controlled areas to counteract the symptoms of menopause.  

Flexible working arrangements can also be key, as they can help employees manage both their personal and professional lives more effectively.” 

Lalahy said employers need to consider both physical and psychological barriers for menopausal women at work. 

She said: "While a lot of emphasis has been placed on symptoms like hot flushes in the past, often it is the psychological symptoms that can affect work.  

“Symptoms like low mood and anxiety, brain fog and fatigue often lead to a lack of confidence and self-esteem in personal and professional lives.  

“Tasks and responsibilities that would never have phased someone before can suddenly seem overwhelming and intimidating.” 

Lalahy added that providing older female employees employees with specialised advice and fast access to treatment can be hugely helpful. 

She added: “Often women may not realise that their symptoms are due to the perimenopause and menopause and don’t seek help.  

“Arming employers with knowledge will give them the confidence in approaching a manager to have that all-important conversation.”  

The survey was conducted by Censuswide on behalf of the BSI, which surveyed 5,074 women aged 18 and up.