The symptoms of the menopause can have a hugely detrimental impact on a worker’s performance and attendance, but measures such as allowing flexible working arrangements will go a long way to retaining and supporting the affected individuals.
As my senior role in financial services rapidly dimmed, amidst mysterious mental fog just before 40, not an inkling of menopause initially surfaced as the culprit. Rather, I thought I had early onset dementia. Now, just recalling basic meeting details, recalling colleagues’ (whom I had headhunted) names or financial figures, induced overwhelming anxiety as cognitive ‘gaps’ began to appear.
My silent suffering persisted over the course of 18 months, before I decided to leave my job, for fear of being seen as weak or vulnerable.
Three months later, my GP gave a formal diagnosis of menopause after insisting on blood tests to rule out early dementia.
Lauren Chiren: "I discovered that NO employers at that time, just around a decade ago, had any awareness training or menopause policy, guidance or framework in place."
When my awareness finally dawned, so did clarity on the utter lack of awareness and resources and I was set on a mission to ensure no other employer or employee would fall foul of this same experience.
I quickly discovered that NO employers at that time, just around a decade ago, had any awareness training or menopause policy, guidance or framework in place.
Even now, only around 26 per cent of UK organisations currently offer formal menopause policies despite government estimates that 75 per cent-plus of menopausal women experience debilitating symptoms. Data also indicates 60 per cent of those women actively avoid disclosing struggles to employers – a silence threatening health, output and advancement.
Catalyst for change
My adversity became the catalyst to create Women of a Certain Stage – a plan to equip workplaces with education and policy roadmaps enabling smoother talent retention and transitional support for those going through menopause and those managing and being managed by them. I now know that everyone CAN successfully navigate menopause with the right knowledge and support.
Over 4.5 million UK women are now in perimenopause or post-menopause, comprising nearly 15 per cent of the national workforce. Photograph: iStock
Three key facts leap out at me:
- There is a spike in women leaving work aged 45–55
- There is a spike in divorce aged 45–55
- There is a spike in suicide aged 45–49.
Menopause typically occurs at age 45–55, just when those experiencing it are in their most senior roles at work and juggling the greatest amount of responsibility outside of work too.
The business case for menopause awareness training and support could not be more convincing:
- More than 4.5 million UK women are now in perimenopause or post-menopause, comprising nearly 15 per cent of the national workforce
- Estimates indicate employers lose up to 13.8 working days annually per female employee from menopause-induced absenteeism and presenteeism
- When multiplied across affected staff, lost productivity traced to menopause transition costs UK companies over £10.5 billion each year.
Yet despite stark metrics, antiquated attitudes and silence around ‘women’s troubles’ still reign in too many executive quarters and boardrooms. This cultural blockade fuels ignorant assumptions that female bodies seamlessly self-regulate amidst workload pressures or home demands. But biology proves otherwise.
However, the upside for responsive employers is towering.
Data confirms workplaces offering customised relief programmes, flexible work arrangements and destigmatising health resources report:
- An 80 per cent boost in staff retention, protecting irreplaceable skill capital
Over 50 per cent of menopausal employees increase their productivity
- Major reputational lift, amplifying recruitment brand power.
Globally lauded corporations now leverage these benefits. Multinationals like BP, Barclays and KPMG have added flexible work options, leave expansions and employee menopause networks. They are starting to see returns as talent magnets. Others elevate health support resources and workshops. Results validate that concerted assistance combined with compassion pays dividends across corporate enterprises.
Legal consequences of inaction
Legal parameters now also demand planning.
The imperative reaches beyond righting equality gaps. As precedent demonstrates, failure to formally support menopausal teams invites tribunal claims citing discrimination. This is no imaginary threat. Justifiable cases already emerge. In fact, there were twice as many employment tribunals in the first half of 2021 as there were in the whole of 2020 and this year is seeing another rise.
Yet rather than react with corporate dread, discerning leaders should embrace the moment for opportunity. Beyond legislation, the deeper call to action stems from a long overdue culture shift. Through policy and programming facilitating supportive working environments, we collectively possess power to prevent talented people who will experience menopause from being professionally sidelined during a pivotal life phase.
The template for success requires neither complex nor costly interventions. The core components are:
- Awareness training sessions for the whole organisation
- Management training on recognising symptoms and providing effective support
Easily accessible toolkits for all role types and genders
- Customised flexibility
- Access to quiet spaces, drinking water, loose fitting uniforms, sanitary products
Access to health resources
- Enhanced leave allowances
- A destigmatising awareness campaign
- Training Menopause Champions and Menopause Coaches, who all play a role in making the workplace menopause transition navigable.
Even simple steps, like sharing the free Menopause The Basics course, is a great starting point, for employees and employers alike. In just 30 minutes a day, over three days, participants will learn about the ages, stage, definitions and symptoms (day one), how to successfully navigate menopause at home, work and beyond (day two) and the impacts of work on menopause and menopause on work (day three).
Each of these steps form the backbone of raising awareness, enabling companies to engage with their colleagues and to create appropriate guidance or policies and reasonable adjustments.
Each role and each industry has its own needs when it comes to changing the culture to be truly menopause-savvy and supportive.
In the process, organisational and national productivity will be strengthened while female economic participation expands. After all, women over 50 are the fastest growing economic active group in the UK. Families, finance ministers and C-suite strategists share the win. Now exponential human capital (of people who experience menopause: women, some transgender, non-binary and gender questioning people) previously stranded resumes full participation.
Each role and each industry has its own needs when it comes to changing the culture to be truly menopause-savvy and supportive. Photograph: iStock
My adversity turned life mission, stands testimony to the huge opportunities that become available to employers when they become truly menopause-savvy and supportive. Positive transformations emerge when you implement changes respecting workforce diversity in all its forms. Those who experience menopause need no longer disappear mid-career if truly inclusive, educated employers meet them where they stand.
That commercial and humanistic crossroads represents the next frontier... and promise.
Workplace cultures embracing this reality will unleash game-changing capability while lives change in turn.
Lauren Chiren will be speaking at the SHW Live exhibition in Manchester on
23–24 January on ‘Building a more inclusive workplace – recognising menstruation and menopause’. See: safetyhealthwellbeing.live
For more information see:
Lauren Chiren is CEO & founder of Women of a Certain Stage
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