In July 2022 the Women and Equalities Committee published a report focusing on menopause in the workplace, including recommendations to make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act of 2010
Since then, the bill to improve menopause in the workplace has been rejected by ministers due to fears such a move could discriminate against men. One of the main concerns to come out of the report was the impact that menopause, and those who suffer from it, is having on the UK economy, triggering a “haemorrhage of talent” among those who experience it, argues Eman Al-Hillawi, CEO of business change consultancy at Entec Si.
With the national conversation around menopause gaining traction, it is important for employers to gain an understanding of the symptoms and potential health issues it can bring, whilst ensuring they adhere to government guidance for the workplace.
Those of average menopausal age are the fastest-growing group in the workforce
With the committee noting that those of average menopausal age (age 45-55) are the fastest growing group in the workforce, 12 recommendations were presented to ministers with the aim of giving those affected more rights within the workplace. In response to the bill, ministers rejected five of the committees’ proposals. These included a call for the government to work with a large employer within the public sector to develop and pilot a menopause leave policy. Whilst the rejection of the bill has caused anger amongst many, concern has been raised that such a bill may have unintended consequences and inadvertently create new forms of discrimination within the workplace.
There is a general misconception around menopause and those who are affected by it
There is a general misconception around menopause and those who are affected by it, and whilst everyone experiences it differently, there are solid facts that unite those going through it. Menopause is a natural part of ageing caused by changing hormone levels, like the experience of puberty, bodies react, and symptoms of menopause take over. It is estimated that 13 million people in the UK are currently menopausal or perimenopausal and in some cases, menopause is going undiagnosed, which is particularly alarming when the mental effects of drastic hormone change begins.
Ministers and employers need to work together to raise more awareness on the menopause
Whilst ministers and employers need to work together to raise more awareness and educate people on the side effects of menopause, the conversation around mental health during this period needs to be at the forefront. It can be one of the most isolating times in a person’s life. Having to relearn the new norm for their body and hormones can also be made particularly difficult in uncomfortable environments, such as hot, bright offices.
Additionally, the worry they could feel like this forever, the stress of navigating ‘life as usual’ and although mental health is in the conversation now more than ever, those experiencing menopause symptoms often feel as though they have no support.
The committee’s report has, however, encouraged the government to prioritise women’s health, making it top of the agenda as part of the first-ever women’s health strategy in England. The main goal of this strategy is to implement “an ambitious programme of work within the NHS to improve menopause care” and is a step in the right direction to tackling the misconceptions.
The misconception of hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Further adding to the negative conations of menopause is the misconception of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT is a treatment which is often prescribed to those affected by menopause as it replaces hormones that the body no longer produces naturally at sufficient levels. This helps to relieve suffering for those affected and prevents the weakening of bones, a common issue ‘after’ menopause.
Although the applications of HRT spread far beyond the treatment for those affected by menopause, there continue to be thousands of people who struggle to gain access through their GPs. The negative press around HRT continues to be one of the main factors preventing people from seeking the medical support they need. With possible side effects and ‘horror’ stories taking the internet by storm, it shadows the fact that HRT is the most effective and safest treatment for menopause. This highlights the need for more education, not only in the workplace but nationally, on menopause, the side effects, treatment options and how those in need can find support in a comfortable and accessible way for Menopause in the workplace, including with their employer.
HRT is the most effective and safest treatment for menopause
Whilst ministers urge employers to be compassionate and flexible to the needs of the workforce, not just for those affected by menopause, there’s more that can be implemented for Menopause in the workplace to offer adequate support, raise awareness and promote the new women’s health strategy.
As such, employers should seek to educate their workforce on the symptoms and side effects of menopause and normalise the conversation of women’s health. Creating a comfortable environment where those affected feel as though they are able to reach out for support can only be a positive step. This also comes with self-education, managers, HR and senior leadership should have a deep knowledge of menopause and be able to offer the support and advice needed. Employees may wish to be specifically trained themselves to understand ways in which they can help others and even spot the signs of menopause in themselves.
Employers may choose to offer private healthcare, allowing employees to receive the treatment they need
Employers may choose to offer private healthcare, allowing employees to receive the treatment they need, whether this be menopause support, mental health support or support for other health needs. There may be in-house assistance on hand, through professional life coaching or access to a mental health expert within the company. There are even some employers which have already introduced specific menopause policies, clearly setting out the help available to employees in the workforce. Flexible working arrangements that are being adopted by many organisations allow the workforce to work hours best suited to them. Whilst this all remains to be at the discretion of the employer, it is undoubtedly encouraging that this level of flexibility and education within the workplace can go some way to alleviating the impact of some menopause symptoms.
In a time where people who are or will be affected by menopause make up half of the UK workforce, it is completely unacceptable that women’s healthcare in England should be ranked as one of the lowest provided around the world. It is not only up to ministers to implement change, but also the employers and business leaders across the country. From awareness campaigns, training, better healthcare to flexible working and menopause leave, there are many ways that those affected by menopause can receive the support and treatment they need within the workplace that can be implemented whether or not a bill is rejected by the Government.
Eman Al-Hillawi is CEO of business change consultancy at Entec Si.
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