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Menopause support still lacking at UK workplaces

Three out of five (59%) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are going through the menopause say it has a negative impact on them at work, according to the CIPD

Its research, which surveyed 1,409 women experiencing menopause symptoms, found that employees do not feel comfortable discussing the menopause at work. While almost a third of women (30%) said they had taken sick leave because of their symptoms, only a quarter (25%) of them felt able to tell their manager the truth about their absence.

Privacy was the primary consideration for women choosing not to disclose the reason for their absence, with 45% citing this. Thirty-four per cent said embarrassment prevented them from saying why they had to take time off and 32% said an unsupportive manager was the reason.

More women said that they felt supported by their colleagues (48%) when going through the menopause than by their managers (32%).

The research found that of those who said the menopause had affected them at work, 65% were less able to concentrate, 52% experienced more stress, and 52% felt less patient with clients and colleagues.

The menopause has a variety of symptoms, with women on average going through 'the change' at the age of 51. The most common symptoms reported in the CIPD’s survey were hot flushes (72%), sleep disturbances (64%) and night sweats (58%). Psychological issues such as mood swings, anxiety and memory loss were also widely reported (56%).

To tackle the stigma associated with the menopause, the CIPD recommended that employers educate and train line managers on holding sensitive discussions and making necessary adjustments for team members.

“It’s likely that nearly every workplace in the UK has someone experiencing the menopause right now but many managers are in the dark on how best to support them. Rather than it being a workplace taboo, line managers should be ready to treat the menopause like any other health condition and have open supportive conversations with women in their teams,” said Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser employment relations for the CIPD.

HR must focus on implementing a culture where women are able to ask for any help required, she added: “Our guidance shows that if employers create a culture where everyone can talk openly about health issues, such as the menopause, women are much more likely to feel confident about asking for the support they need to be effective in their role. Managers also need to work closely with their HR teams to understand what simple practical adjustments can be made to help women feel more comfortable and able to manage their work.”

Charlotte Burton-Barker, learning and development assistant at Adaptis, told HR magazine that it's vital for employers to do more here as the UK faces an ageing workforce.

The ageing workforce is a major demographic trend yet the needs of older employees can be overlooked. It is essential for employers to create an environment where all employees feel supported, ensuring their wellbeing and value to the business," she said.

“As a result of an ageing workforce more women at menopausal age are in employment than ever before. The menopause is a biological milestone for women, it can have a number of implications on their wellbeing, and marks a change in what they need from their employer. Therefore understanding and in turn supporting women through this transition should be considered a priority for organisations.”

The CIPD has released a new guide for employers on how to support female employees going through the menopause. Among other recommendations, it suggests giving women a later start time if their sleep pattern is disturbed, providing a desk fan to help with hot flushes, making sure women can take regular comfort breaks, and allowing them to adapt their uniform to improve comfort levels.

Ros Altmann, former pensions minster and pensions and later-life campaigner, welcomed the guidelines. "I'm delighted to see these guidelines from the CIPD. It is so important that HR departments and line managers are more aware of this health issue that can affect millions of workers,” she told HR magazine.

“This last taboo in the workplace has, for too long, left women vulnerable and without support when some understanding and accommodation could keep them working.”

YouGov surveyed 2,010 working women aged between 45 and 55 for the CIPD, of which 1,409 had experienced menopause symptoms.