By Dr Melina Stasinou, a specialist in integrative women’s health and bioidentical hormone balancing for the Marion Gluck Clinic
In the last few years, there have been great strides made to modernise the workplace and put lives at the centre of work benefits rather than make the benefits work around the job. Menopause policies have especially been brought to light as more and more women feel comfortable discussing the drawbacks of menopause and how it negatively impacts their work. Some business leaders have been forthcoming and are implementing new incentives which will transform work culture and improve the health and well-being of their employees. However, more needs to be done to make menopause-friendly policies the standard rather than a bonus. So what is the importance of menopause-friendly policies and how can business leaders take charge to improve the lives of their employees?
Challenges for women in the workplace
Menopausal women are now the fastest growing workforce. The treadmill of menopausal women struggling to work with symptoms, combined with a lack of support and awareness from colleagues and line managers regarding their situation and the subsequent economic burden, presents a compelling need for change in how business leaders approach internal challenges.
According to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM), eight out of 10 menopausal women are in work. Three out of four experience a different severity of symptoms and one in four experience very serious symptoms. One out of three women in the workplace will soon be over 50 .
The numbers stated above prove that more working women above 50 will experience menopause and transitional peri-menopausal periods during their working lives.
Aside from menopause, there are numerous problems women can face in the workplace, which could include unconscious bias, pregnancy discrimination, the gender pay gap, harassment, lack of female leaders and much more. Businesses have a moral and legal duty to create a positive, inclusive and supportive workplace which allows all employees to thrive and feel safe in their place of work. However, businesses cannot solely rely on the government to provide guidelines and implement the law. For example, despite efforts from charities and organisations, misogyny was not given a provision last year to fall under the law which currently protects disabled people, people of colour, religious groups, and LGBTQ+ against hate crimes by the former Home Secretary. This is why leadership must prevail in companies so that protections are in place and enforced regardless of what the state says.
In the context of menopause, the very basics start with understanding what it is and the range of symptoms women experience. The NHS defines menopause as “menopause is when your periods stop due to lower hormone levels. It usually affects women between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can happen earlier. It affects anyone who has periods.”
Menopausal symptoms can be physical and psychological. Physical symptoms include insomnia, hot flushes and night sweats, tiredness, low energy, headaches, and weight gain. Psychological symptoms include low mood, irritability, mood swings, lack of confidence and memory issues. Menopause is not a uniform condition regarding symptoms.
Both categories of symptoms can lead to an overall negative effect on menopausal women’s quality of working life and their performance. The reduced engagement and commitment to the work, the higher sickness absence, the decreased ability for efficient time management and the ability to complete tasks effectively in combination with emotional resilience contribute to reduced productivity and can result in job loss to younger new employees. Companies guilty of this run the risk of losing staff with important qualifications and having to spend more time training new staff in order to replace them.
Although most companies are claiming an openness to discuss difficulties with their employees and the existence of a supportive environment for women with menopausal symptoms, some women still feel reluctant to disclose their symptoms due to feeling that they may be treated negatively because of this. Furthermore, according to other studies, women during the transitional period of menopause claim they feel invisible when it comes to a promotion decision. They also feel they need to manage their appearance to present an “unproblematic female body” in the workplace .
What can companies do?
Company leaders at each level must respond to each individual’s needs as not everyone experiences the same symptoms and everyone’s lifestyle differs. Establishing a cohesive approach is fine, but it must not neglect those who struggle with rarer symptoms and may lack support at home. Adapting the way in which performance is measured is one key way to help employees. Instead of setting the bar high, be pragmatic and set realistic goals which can be achieved in the appropriate time frame. In addition, giving regular, 360-degree feedback, recognising good work and rewarding it, and using unbiased productivity tracking tools would all greatly benefit employees and enhance company morale and quality of work.
Companies need to act and establish an approach that will be effective for women and will give them the possibility not to slow down but to continue being productive and retain their work performance with confidence.
The Equality Act of 2010 establishes the importance of “reasonable workplace adjustments” to ensure workplace equality . As the existing evidence is inconsistent regarding the best performance management policy for women experiencing menopausal transition symptoms, we could attempt to suggest the following interventions:
- Flexible and home working hours.
- Position of workspace and optimal working conditions to help with symptom relief (ventilation, accessibility to toilet facilities, provision of cold water, quiet workplace rest areas, access to natural light).
- The right to review their job role responsibilities and description yearly with their managers.
- Change in organisational cultures by establishing shared values, beliefs and norms ceasing a culture of silence which makes women feel anxious, helpless, and alone.
- Mandatory training covering equality and diversity according to gender and age and especially covering menopause transition.
- Flexibility and increase sickness absence policy.
- Informal support groups for women experiencing menopause transition in the workplace.
- Reducing workload and long hours of working.
- Flexibility to rearrange formal meetings and presentations.
- Allowing time off to attend medical appointments.
- Provide menopause awareness training for all women approaching the age of 45 years and offer options for symptom relief.
For female employees to feel respected, engaged, and rewarded, company leaders must take into account the above interventions and make workplace wellbeing a priority. Menopause is enough of a challenge without the demands of employers and the high expectations that often come with working. Employers must approach implementing menopause-friendly policies with empathy and an open mind. That way employees feel reassured and have the confidence to stay and progress within their roles.
Finally, the wide range of menopause symptoms needs to be taken into account in the workplace instead of adapting stereotypes and blaming the gendered ageism difficulties. The interventions proposed above are easy to implement as they are cost-effective, and they need a decision on an organisational basis.
The menopausal transition needs to be understood in the same context as other female hormonal changes such as pregnancy and maternity. There is a necessity to change workplace culture, policies, and training in a way that doesn’t enforce silence, embarrassment, and fear for women with menopause symptoms that they are less capable than the previous years or that they can lose their jobs any time. There is a necessity to implement small interventions that will allow in future to establish their efficacy or to establish a requirement for a bigger spectrum of interventions.
 https://figshare.le.ac.uk – Guidance on menopause and workplace ( Faculty of Occupational Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians)
 “The effects of menopause transition on women’s economic participation in the UK” Joanna Brewis et al, University of Leicester, 2017
 https://menopauseintheworkplace.co.uk – National Union of Teachers ( 2014a and b)a. “Theachers working through the Menopause. Guidance for members in England and Wales ”Findings of the NUT 2014 Survey on the menopause”
 Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk – Equality of Act 2010, Duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments for their staff
About the Marion Gluck Clinic
The Marion Gluck Clinic is the UK’s leading medical clinic that pioneered the use of bioidentical hormones to treat menopause, perimenopause and other hormone related issues. Headed up by Dr. Marion Gluck herself, the clinic uses her method of bioidentical hormonal treatment to rebalance hormones to improve wellbeing, quality of life and to slow down ageing.