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19 Oct 2020
by Pippa Andrews

The menopause: how to create a supportive workplace environment

Menopause is a normal biological process that around half the population will go through at some point. But like women’s health as a whole, it’s often considered taboo and isn’t discussed as widely or openly as it should be.

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It’s estimated that soon, at least a third of the UK workforce will be aged over 50. On average, menopause starts between ages 45 and 55, and given our ageing population, menopausal women are now the fastest growing demographic in the workplace.

Effects of menopause

While everyone’s experience is different, around three-quarters of women experience symptoms of some form.

Menopause symptoms affect both physical and mental health. The most common ones include: hot flushes, night sweats, interrupted sleep, memory and concentration loss, headaches, low mood/anxiety, joint stiffness and more. One-quarter of women experience more severe symptoms, so for those going through menopause, the impact on their daily life can be significant.

It’s no surprise then that performance at work can suffer as a result, because of the debilitating nature of what they’re going through. Unfortunately, the lack of openness around menopause means that these women are often left to suffer in silence.

What can employers do?

Our increased awareness of health and wellness has meant that many people now have healthcare support at work – whether in the form of insurance cover, or wellness programmes. Though menopause isn’t a new phenomenon, traditionally, the support both inside and outside of work just isn’t adequate enough. But when you consider just how much of your workforce could be affected, it’s clear that something has to change. All employers want to ensure they can attract and retain the best talent, and part of this is having inclusive benefits, so now is the time to explore what you can do and what help you can provide.

There are two main areas to address when it comes to menopause: education and awareness; support and intervention.

Education and awareness

Creating an environment where open and honest conversations can take place is a good place to start. For a lot of people, there is still some embarrassment around talking about menopause – both for those going through it and their colleagues. But it’s a normal part of life and the more it’s discussed, the less stigma there will be.

From an employer’s perspective, raising awareness through education, and ensuring that line managers understand the effects on staff will help to facilitate conversations and make it easier for people to be open about their experiences and where they might be struggling.

Support and intervention

Having support in place is the second area, whether it’s through ways of working or healthcare provision, or even better – a combination of the two.

Start by taking care of the basics, like ensuring everyone has a suitable working environment, and can make or request any adjustments needed to make themselves more comfortable. If you don’t already, promote things like flexible and remote-working, especially as some people will feel more able to manage their symptoms at home or feel more productive at different times.

There are also menopause health and wellness services you could offer as part of your healthcare provision to the employees that need it. These platforms offer online and face-to-face support, including access to specialist practitioners, treatment advice and a range of programmes and courses focused on the different symptoms and how to manage them – something that should help to ease the transition.

A survey conducted by ITV’s Tonight programme in conjunction with Wellbeing of Women in 2016 found that around a quarter of those asked considered leaving work due to the severity of their menopause symptoms. Making a few simple changes that create an inclusive environment with the right support for the different life stages and health issues we face will mean that you’re better placed to hold on to your best people.

At Vitality, to help improve awareness and to provide our employees with easy access to expert advice and treatment, we've partnered with Peppy, an online menopause support service. Led by the former chair of the British Menopause Society, Peppy has a team of NHS-trained nurses with decades of experience working in the field of menopause and women’s health.

The author is Pippa Andrews, director corporate business at Vitality.

This article is provided by Vitality.

In partnership with Vitality

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