The NHS website defines menopause as “when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally”. It is a natural part of aging and usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55; the average age for women in the UK reaching menopause is 51.
Menopause is accompanied by a range of symptoms, some of which can be very severe, can impact individuals’ day to day lives, and last for around four years. Examples include hot flushes, night sweats, reduced libido, anxiety, and insomnia.
Menopause and the workplace
According to a 2017 UK government report on menopause, menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workforce – one-third of the workforce is over 50 – and nearly eight in 10 women going through menopause are in work.
Research by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that three in five working women between 45 and 55 experiencing menopausal symptoms say their work is impacted.
In addition, 65% of more than 1,400 women surveyed by YouGov for CIPD said they struggled to concentrate, 58% said they experienced more stress, and 52% felt less patient with clients and colleagues.
Further to this, 30% of women said they had taken sick leave because of their symptoms – with 25% of those not being honest with their line manager. This was primarily because due to privacy concerns, embarrassment, and feeling their manager would be unsupportive.
Research by Bupa and CIPD in 2019 also found that almost a million women in the UK left their job in the last year because of menopausal symptoms.
It is clear that it is in an employer’s interest to break the taboo around menopause – in the same way that companies are supporting employees’ mental wellbeing and offering miscarriage leave – by creating a safe space and developing policies that support employees through this natural process.
Ignoring the needs of these women is not only ageist, it is bad business; it puts companies at risk of losing out on an important pool of experienced and talented employees.
Here are five examples of employers who are ahead of the curve when it comes to creating supportive workplaces for women going through menopause, even though there is no legal requirement to do so.
On International Women’s Day 2021, telecommunications giant Vodafone announced its commitment to support employees through menopause. This commitment applies across all of the company’s markets in Europe and Africa.
Vodafone chief human resources offier Leanne Wood noted: “Vodafone’s global commitment to menopause underscores our drive for a more inclusive culture and our desire for women to see Vodafone as the place to be for their career through all stages of their life.
“With menopause impacting women for a significant period of their working life, it’s important to us that our environment supports and normalizes these life stages by openly talking about and supporting menopause in the workplace.”
The company estimates that menopause affects 15% of its 100,000 employees, and it has decided to support them through a range of different measures.
As well as introducing training and awareness programs about menopause for all employees, Vodafone is offering them extra support around sick leave, medical treatment, and flexible working.
Other programs include 16 weeks of parental leave and a phased return to work for an additional six months, a ReConnect program that aims to attract talented women back into the workforce after they leave to raise a family, and well as a policy that supports employees at risk or experiencing domestic violence and abuse.
Multinational drinks company Diageo, which owns brands like Guinness, Baileys, Smirnoff, and Captain Morgan, also announced new menopause guidelines in March 2021.
The aim of the guidance is to raise awareness and understanding of the taboo subject of menopause, as well as provide resources to employees and line managers dealing with menopause, both directly and indirectly in their personal lives.
As a result, employees will have access to counselling and mindfulness sessions as part of Diageo’s employee assistance programs, as well as increased workplace flexibility around working hours and sick leave.
Talking about the news, Diageo global talent director Louise Prashad said:
“We are committed to creating a fully inclusive and diverse workforce and as part of this to championing open and empowering conversations, particularly in subjects that can often be difficult or taboo.
“With today’s launch of Diageo’s Menopause guidelines we are actively encouraging all of our employees to build their understanding of how the menopause impacts women in the workplace and in our personal lives, as well as providing strengthened support and flexibility during what many women can find a challenging time in their professional careers.”
Initially this policy has only been launched across the UK, US, Canada and Ireland – however, more countries are to follow later this year.
World Menopause Day occurs on 18 October every year and in 2020 UK-based insurer Aviva seized the moment to introduce a new menopause awareness campaign for its employees in the UK.
The campaign included seminars aiming to help raise awareness and support those experiencing menopause – and their line managers – as well as introducing a service called Peppy as part of its benefits offering.
Peppy will be available to all of Aviva’s UK employees and will offer free 45-minute one-to-one phone consultations and a personalized live chat with menopause specialists and experts to provide reassurance around symptoms.
This app fits squarely in the femtech sector, but since launching in 2018 Peppy is now leading the way in so-called menotech.
Talking about the company’s new menopause commitments, Aviva’s chief people office Danny Harmer said: “Most people are familiar with the common, and sadly sometimes still ridiculed, physical symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes and night sweats.
“Less well known are the mental health aspects, including anxiety and difficulty sleeping, which can have a massive impact on performance and self-confidence.
“So it’s no wonder that one in four women consider leaving work because of menopause – a loss of talent that businesses can prevent.
“Menopause need not be a barrier to a continued successful career.
“An open and empathetic culture, with proper training available for leaders, access to expert advice for individuals and supportive policies like flexible working, will help us better support our people, their partners and families during every stage of their lives.”
Another employer that has introduced Peppy as part of its benefits offering is the British branch of Spanish bank Santander.
This came in 2020, a year after the bank updated its communications with facts about menopause and shared sources of support with employees. This fits into Santander UK’s view that menopause isn’t just a women’s issue, it is a workplace issue.
Culture and employee value proposition lead for Santander UK Theresa Winters told Employee Benefits: “We also held menopause awareness sessions for colleagues and managers, with a clear message that menopause is a topic that impacts any person of any gender or age.
“This awareness phase was crucial so that we created the right environment, in which people could talk openly about their experiences of menopause and seek help if they needed to.”
Winters explains that Peppy takes away the burden of individuals having to waiting weeks or months for a GP appointment, as well as enabling employees to perform at work to the best of their ability.
Although Peppy was initially piloted for only 130 employees, the results were astonishing. Winters said that after four weeks, “75% of participants felt their menopause symptoms were less bothersome, and 90% of participants said they felt more positive about Santander as an employer.”
Now the app has been made available to available to all employees – more than 500 have registered to date – and has contributed to Santander UK being named among the Times top 50 employers for women in 2021.
UK-based TV network Channel 4 is very forward thinking with regards to employee wellbeing.
Not only is the network one of the few employers to offer bereavement leave for individuals and families dealing with pregnancy loss, it’s leading the way with its menopause policy.
Introduced in 2019 and updated in 2020, Channel 4’s policy aims to support employees experiencing the unpleasant symptoms of menopause, as well as provide guidance to line managers.
Employees at Channel 4 now have the option to access desk fans or a quiet or cool room, as well as the use of the Babylon app through their Bupa benefit, more paid sick leave, and a counseling service. Menopausal women will also have more flexible working options, including more breaks, earlier start times and finish times to avoid rush hour traveling, being allowed to have their camera off during Teams calls, and the ability to request reduced working hours on a temporary basis.
According to an internal survey, 10% of female employees have used (or plan to use) the policy – only 13% of Channel 4 staff are women aged over 45.
Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon commented: “We’re really proud to have had so many conversations around menopause this year at Channel 4 and confront a subject that remains ridiculously taboo in the workplace.
“Our dedicated policy has provided Channel 4’s employees – both our women facing the menopause and all our managers – with vital tools and support.
“This is a time when even more than ever we need to respect the concerns and constraints of our staff so I encourage all companies to look at this.
“By giving away our policy to everyone we hope to make it even easier for other companies to benefit from the retention of expert women in their industries.”