Acknowledging the menopause and understanding how to support colleagues is a critical management issue for organisations big and small.

Women aged 50 and over are one of the fastest growing groups of employees in the British economy. It also happens to be a time in their lives when women are reaching menopause and can experience a wide range of potentially debilitating symptoms. The menopause has health and wellbeing consequences for individuals and can impact their effectiveness at work.

My wife fortunately works for one of the more enlightened organisation where male and female managers attend training on menopause awareness. Being supported through the roller coaster of physical and emotional effects of the menopause made a huge difference to her personal well-being, home life and effectiveness at work.

Understanding the menopause

The symptoms which accompany transition to menopause sometimes continue post-menopause and can continue for several years. They can be debilitating – for around a quarter of women, they are seriously debilitating. Symptoms can include hot flushes and night sweats, heavy and erratic periods, difficulties with focus and memory, irritability, mood swings and depression.

How an organisation deals with women’s transition through menopause impacts its reputation as an employer and ability to attract and retain the best people.

So what do managers need to know?

1. The experience of menopause varies considerably from woman to woman, and there’s a long list of potential symptoms. Accordingly, it is important for workplaces to provide a variety of reasonable adjustments so that mid-life female workers can request the right options for them. Many of these such as providing desktop fans, cold drinking water and easy access sanitary protection, are cheap and easy to introduce. A flexible working pattern can also help women to manage their symptoms – if they have had a bad night’s sleep, for example and is already something all employees in the UK have the right to request. Other initiatives, like training for managers and HR an are excellent investment.

2. Sadly, some women report feeling as if their colleagues and managers treat them differently and unfairly due to the assumptions and stereotypes about the menopause. Unfortunately, in some organisations, there remains evidence of bullying, harassment and micro performance management because of a failure to properly understand the menopause. Compared with attitudes, policies and processes around pregnancy and maternity at work, the difference can become very obvious.

3. Organisations increasingly recognise the importance of social responsibility. The social responsibility case for employers to provide appropriate support for female staff experiencing menopause in the workplace is undeniable. There is ample evidence that work offers much more than just pay for older women. It is also a vital source of social support and self-esteem. Equally, it is clear that too many women do not feel able to speak up about any menopausal symptoms at work because they fear being judged, harassed or bullied.

The result is that they women manage their symptoms without any understanding or support which has negative connotations for both the individual and their employer.

4. Whilst providing support and understanding is simply the right thing to do for the individual and the business, there are also potential legal risks and financial costs associated with treating menopausal women unfairly.

5. There are other clear business reasons for making provision for women in menopause. The average cost of replacing an employee, for example, one who leaves because her symptoms make it too difficult to continue in her job without some reasonable adjustments, is £30,000. This includes the cost of lost output as well as the cost of recruiting. Less tangible costs, but just as important, include the loss of the departing individual’s expertise and experience.

Just like my wife’s enlightened organisation has found, introducing menopause in the workplace policies and other best practice is straightforward, makes business sense and is something all responsible companies should implement.

If you’d like to know more about how the team at First Base can help you with ideas about recruitment and retention of great people, call 01453 755330 or email tricia.hay@first-base.co.uk

By David Tovey