It’s one of the greatest workplace issues that many have never heard of, and even less are willing to talk about: menopause. When almost 4,000 women were surveyed in the UK, a massive 99% said their menopause symptoms had negatively impacted their careers, and 59% said symptoms had forced them to take time off.

It’s an issue for business as well as the individuals. Globally, the cost of menopause-related productivity losses to businesses is thought to be up to US$150 billion a year.

There’s a growing demand for employers to provide women experiencing menopause symptoms with practical support and understanding in the workplace. The gold standard to aspire for? An official company-wide menopause leave policy that employees aren’t afraid to put into action.

Research about this issue is growing, and social commentators are speaking up, calling (loudly) for change. In the UK, in particular, many companies are proactively leading the way and introducing leave policies to keep women engaged in work as they navigate this time of life.

For now, it’s important to know that whether you’re struggling to get going in the morning after sweating through the night, or if brain fade is slowing you down during the day, you are not the only one.

Working your way through menopause

There’s growing evidence that menopausal symptoms are altering how women perceive their abilities at work. While you may have once felt on top of things, you may find your productivity is lower than usual or how you feel  about your  work experience is changing. 

Many women report that their menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms like fatigue, memory problems, and anxiety were getting in the way of their careers. A third of these women even said the impact was ‘significant’. 

Not that it’s easy for women to call attention to menopause symptoms. 

Negative stereotypes are still deeply embedded in many workplaces worldwide, typecasting women experiencing menopause as emotionally unstable and unable to perform at work

Being subjected to unwanted stigma and discrimination about menopause could have you feeling like you have a scarlet ‘M’ pinned to your chest⸺and a target on your back. 

To give the impression it’s all business as usual, some women are overcompensating and even increasing their work output during menopause, creating an environment where stress and anxiety can thrive. Stress-related burnout for women experiencing menopause is increasing, and while this is bad for general health, it can also trigger and worsen some menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes

The business of menopause 

Researchers have already reported that costs climb when organizations don’t support women experiencing disruptive menopause symptoms. 

It can lead to increased time off, lowered productivity, reduced quality of work and even resignations. 

And we’re not just talking about a few women, here and there. The numbers are staggering.

For European women, the employment rate for those aged 55 - 64 was 27.4% in 2000. By 2010 it had jumped to 38.8%. By 2020, it had climbed even higher for women over 65.

If one in eight are leaving their work due to menopause symptoms, that adds up to a massive cost for businesses to bear. 

In female-dominated careers, such as nursing, the impact of menopause at work has become an urgent priority. Once again in Europe, around 77% of nurses are female, and about 30% are between 45 and 54. That equates to tens of thousands of nursing staff who may be experiencing menopause symptoms.

But as we edge towards equal representation of women and men in the workforce, and as the workforce ages, it is becoming an issue no business can ignore.

It’s thought that 900,000 UK women have quit their jobs due to menopause symptoms. And while this number is across an undefined period of time, it is still a staggering amount. 

99% of women's careers are impacted by menopause

For women aged 50 - 54 who remained in the workforce, the government estimated in 2016 that those taking leave because of their symptoms were costing businesses around £42 (approximately $US56) per woman. This added up to a little over £7 million (approximately $US9.4 million) in absence-related costs.

Though, researchers are quick to emphasize these numbers are conservative. And while tallying women’s sick days is possible, they acknowledge it’s much harder to quantify the other costs adding up. How do you land on a nice neat number that shows the cost of lower self-esteem brought on by symptoms? Or the economic impact of older women leaving work earlier than planned?

Why does menopause leave work?

While it might take a bit more convincing for some, there’s evidence that menopause leave can pack a positive punch for employers trying to manage skyrocketing costs.

Offering women menopause leave to better manage their symptoms could potentially reframe their entire attitude towards work. And rather than soldiering on, a time-out might offer women the space to reconsider quitting altogether. 

According to the Australasian Menopause Society, the research shows menopause symptoms can lead to less job satisfaction and lowers women’s general commitment to their roles. Allowing for that critical time away from the office, even if it’s only for a few weeks or even days, could be enough for some women to re-engage and feel more connected to their work. This keeps hiring costs low as employers are not constantly scrambling to fill roles left open by women whose symptoms prove too debilitating.

Additionally, UK professional HR body, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, suggested that keeping women in the workforce, thanks to menopause leave and support, is an opportunity for employers to work towards closing gender pay gaps. This is much harder for organizations to achieve when there are fewer women in the team able to take on the senior roles that come with a higher salary.

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What does menopause leave look like?

For employers who aren’t sure about what a menopause leave policy even looks like, Victorian Women’s Trust, an Australian research, policy, and advocacy service, has stepped in and developed a free menstrual policy template for any workplace, anywhere in the world to use. 

The proposed menopause leave policy suggests employers:

  • prioritize women’s comfort and allow them to work from home if possible
  • offer opportunities and spaces for women to rest in quiet areas at work
  • offer 12 days leave per year that is pro-rata and non-cumulative
  • do not require medical certificates from women taking time off to manage menopause symptoms. 

For UK employers, DavidsonMorris solicitors also offer comprehensive advice on putting together a tailored menopause policy.

To understand what a menopause leave policy can—and should—look like, UK retail giant Marks & Spencer has stepped up.

With women making up 73% of its workforce of 85,000 spread across 53 countries, Marks & Spencer developed a comprehensive ‘Manage Your Menopause’ microsite for staff, filled with information and guidance for managers. It also formed a specialist group within its Occupation Health and Employee Support services team to manage referrals and established robust absence policies related to menopause symptoms. The initiative was a huge success, leading to fewer absences and less staff turnover. 

Marks & Spencer also partnered with advocacy organization GenM. Alongside 31 other brands like Boots, Vichy, and Promensil, the company signed an open letter asking other businesses to support the UK’s 15.5 million women experiencing menopause with effective products, services, workplace policies, and signposting.

In the US, few organizations share information about their menopause policies, if any. This could be a sign that for now, not many American employers are willing to acknowledge publicly that it’s a concern. Or they simply don’t want to highlight they can’t offer menopause leave to employees.

Kellogg’s in the UK have publicly said they’re on a mission to break menopause taboos, as well as the stigma of infertility and miscarriage. Instead of silence, managers are being trained to talk about menopause with their employees to create a psychologically safe workplace. 

In Australia, retirement fund, Future Super, is another leader and one of the first to put a menopause leave policy in place. It offers women up to six days of menopause (and menstrual) leave per year, which is not part of their employees’ personal or sick leave. The good news is their workers took notice – Future Super shared that 22% of women took advantage of the policy within its first six months. 

Here at Mindset Health we try to practice what we preach. Our menopause and menstruation leave policy allows women a safe space to speak up, share their concerns, work from home, or take a time-out from the office without it impacting our annual leave allowance.

How to start the conversation at work

With or without menopause leave in place, it can be an empowering step to start the conversation in your workplace. 

Here are a few simple steps that can set your workplace in the right direction.

Find the right person

Determine who you feel the most comfortable talking to. They might be your manager or someone in human resources. Be open; let them know what’s going on and any struggles you may be having in the workplace. This is your chance to ask for help and see what solutions are possible.

Suggest your own solutions

You can take control too! Prepare a list of your symptoms with potential solutions. 

If anxiety and night sweats keep you up, suggest a possible later start time to clock on. Ensure your coworkers know your new schedule.

Send yourself to time-out

For offices that already have a mother’s room for breastfeeding women, suggest this becomes a shared space. When a hot flash is coming on fast, this could become your go-to spot for a time-out to cool down.

This place could also be a safe space for you to take a 15-minute break for hot flash programs such as Evia.

Turn to tech for tracking

If brain fog (or brain fade) is one of your biggest concerns, set audible reminders on your email and calendars to keep you on track. Ask your manager if they have any software solutions to help you with your planning. 

Spread the word

If the person you’ve spoken to is unfamiliar with menopause, point them in the right direction to help them help you. Menopause at Work is a great resource with plenty of advice for building menopause-savvy managers. 

Find your friends

Seek out confidants at work. Having a go-to person on a day when your symptoms are particularly disruptive could help.

The Wrap Up

There’s a growing need for support in the workplace for women experiencing menopause symptoms, particularly via the implementation of a menopause leave policy. With more women working (and in the workforce for longer), actioning a menopause leave policy has never been more relevant or in demand. There are steps employers can take right now to support women experiencing symptoms that impact their performance. Speaking up yourself can be challenging, but suggesting a few easy-to-implement changes could make a big difference to not only your performance but how you see yourself as a working woman.

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