‘We deserve better’: how employers can support staff through the menopause with policy
The Drum speaks to employment experts, support organizations and companies that have already implemented policies to find out how firms can support menopausal people in the workplace.
With its 48 symptoms ranging from hot flushes to headaches and memory loss to muscle pain, the menopause can last up to eight years, mostly affecting women between the ages of 45 and 55 – often when their careers are at a high. And according to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, three-in-five of those experiencing symptoms while at work say it has a negative impact on their performance.
So what can companies do to build better conversations around menopause, and how can employers ensure they are providing the right support to stave off an exodus of talent?
In the past, very little has been done by employers to ensure that people going through the menopause are accommodated and supported. Stephanie Faubion, medical director of the North American Menopause Society, says: “Historically, no alterations or modifications have been made in the workplace because of menopause.” And, she adds, there haven’t been many changes in recent years either.
Heather Jackson is the co-founder of Gen M, a UK-based digital platform that seeks to educate on menopause and empower those going through it. She suggests that the lack of policy and support for people going through the menopause is because the issue is on a societal level.
“The menopause doesn’t stay at home and let you come to the workplace, and it doesn’t just affect you while you’re in the workplace either. Along with asking what companies can do, we should be asking ’what can we all do to push the conversation forward and support the person experiencing the menopause?’”
Companies, she says, have the power to enable conversations about menopause. “We have to accept that menopause doesn’t just affect the person going through it, it affects their friends, relatives, partners and their work colleagues.
“The fact is, when you are having the symptoms you can’t function as normal, so we need to ensure companies build better conversations around the menopause, whether it’s to help the person who is transitioning or to help their colleague better understand what is happening to the person in their team.”
Lack of support for perimenopausal and menopausal people has resulted in many leaving work as a result of their symptoms. Women in the 45-55 age bracket currently make up the largest-growing demographic of the workforce, and yet as Katie Edwards points out, “there is such a low percentage of women over 50 in the industry – only 6.3%.”
The Publicis Poke managing partner says: “I think that when only a small number of people are affected, policies aren’t often designed with those people in mind.”
Yet the industry cannot afford the loss of talent due to the lack of support for menopausal people and Edwards says it was this that inspired Publicis Poke to implement its own menopause policy.
“When we talked to our head of talent within the HR department, it really felt like pushing against an open door. I felt very supported in putting a policy together.”
Edwards agrees with Jackson that it’s as much about opening up the conversation as it is about implementing a policy, saying: ”Not many people feel that they can talk openly about menopause and we have a lot of women in senior leadership roles who expressed how they felt unable to talk openly about their symptoms. So it also came from a place of wanting to represent everyone in our agency.”
On top of encouraging menopausal people to open up about their experiences and introducing an employee hotline where people can speak confidentially, the Publicis Poke policy also includes guidance around flexible working and allowances for physical adjustments in the workplace – such as being seated by a window and access to cooler meeting rooms.
Emma Richardson is the director of Worksphere, a comprehensive HR service run by global firm Lewis Silkin. She says that one of the best things companies can do to support menopausal people through policy is to make work a safe space for them.
“Creating a safe space – for example, a coffee morning that is without agenda, where people can go and be as open as they like about what they are going through – also allows for people to gain comfort and learn from each other. This is something I would advocate.”
She also advises that on top of opening up conversations around menopause and making physical accommodations for workers experiencing symptoms, employers should ensure that staff are not unfairly discriminated against if they need to take time off work.
“One thing an employer might want to think about is its absence management policy,” she suggests. “This is particularly relevant if you have an absence management policy that rewards people for not taking sick days – for example, if you take the minimum number of sick days you get an additional holiday as a reward. So employers might want to think about creating an absence management policy that recognizes absences directly related to the menopause.”
Despite the historic lack of support for people going through menopause in the workplace, changes are starting to be seen across the marketing, advertising and media industries.
Edwards says Publicis Poke’s menopause policy is due to be rolled out across Publicis Groupe UK, with hopes that the change might also make it across the pond to the US. Edelman UK and Ireland has meanwhile introduced paid ‘time-out’ days for anyone experiencing menopause or supporting someone going through it, and last week Ogilvy built on its pre-existing menopause policy to include private medical assessments and access to consultants if necessary through a partnership with Bupa.
In 2019, to coincide with World Menopause Day (18 October), Channel 4 launched its dedicated menopause policy to great acclaim, also offering accommodations such as flexible working conditions, paid leave, private and cool space for workers, and training for managers on how best to support employees.
Navene Alim, a senior lawyer at Channel 4 and co-founder and co-chair of 4 Women, the gender equality staff network behind the policy, says that as a media company, Channel 4 has a responsibility to lead the change in culture.
“Media companies, marketing companies – they have a voice, they have a platform. I think that ensuring their internal culture reflects the inclusivity and diversity they claim to champion is extremely important.
“If your company culture is one that reflects these values, then getting the conversation started about awkward or historically taboo subjects is just a natural flow down.”
Fabioun agrees that the media and marketing industries can play a role in tackling menopause taboo through education, saying: “Destigmatizing menopause is important and can be accomplished with education – of women, of employers, of medical providers – and by accepting that ageing and menopause are a natural and normal part of life for 100% of the greater population, rather than just the 50% that is female.”
On the role of the workplace in education about menopause, Gen M’s Jackson says it can be “an incredible place for promoting the fact that if people don’t look into their symptoms and instead ignore them, their health will likely suffer in the long run”.
“The long-term effects of ignoring some menopausal symptoms can include diabetes and osteoporosis, so for an employer to build awareness of this as well as supporting employees through it will drastically improve their quality of life.”
“This cannot be another women-only conversation and we will never move the dial of change if we continue to see it as a women-only issue. So we have to call it out now because we deserve better.”
Women in the 45-55 age bracket remain the fastest growing demographic of the workforce and up to 80% of them will experience menopause symptoms while at work.
Workplaces have an obligation to these individuals to not only educate and start conversations around this still-taboo topic but to put meaningful measures in place to ensure that the people struggling with it are supported and not ostracized or penalized.
With an aging workforce and more women in the workplace than ever before, implementing a menopause policy is an investment in future generations for firms, and then the next bastion of a safe and inclusive workplace.
Previously, we looked at how firms are handling Covid-19 vaccination policies, which you can read here. If there is an issue you feel workplaces ought to address, get in touch with email@example.com to tell us more.
Meanwhile, we’ve created a short survey to gauge the state of mental wellbeing for workers in marketing and advertising – and we’re asking everyone to participate so that we can get the fullest picture possible. The survey is open to anyone that works in advertising or marketing, anywhere in the world, at any level of seniority, and it’s completely anonymous. You can take the survey here.