Chris Menzel explains why and how we should be talking about menopause in the workplace
Statistics show that about 1 in 3 women in the world have either experienced the menopause or are currently experiencing it. I feel honoured to write about one of the topics that we still do not discuss much in public and especially not at the workplace. I will share with you why it is a topic of interest to me, what menopause is, why it should be considered at the workplace, and what benefit a company has from implementing a menopause policy.
Why is Menopause in the Workplace Important?
A few years ago, I stumbled across a menopause policy from another company while working in the UK as a Senior PA. My thoughts were immediately that this organisation prioritised the wellbeing of their employees and that the company must be a wonderful employer being so thoughtful. Menopause was not part of the biology curriculum in school, not really discussed in public, and I certainly did not discuss it with my friends or family. I was not menopausal myself, so I did not have a personal perspective, but I still felt that a company implementing such a policy was in general a good employer for everyone.
Last year I moved to Germany and took on the position as COO at Matchbird GmbH where I am now responsible for People, Processes, and Internationalisation. Therefore, I had the opportunity to make matchbird a family-friendly and employee-oriented company. Implementing a menopause policy was a logical step, adding to the wellbeing and satisfaction of all employees.
Large companies are also getting involved. HSBC has more than 50% female employees and nearly one in three is of menopausal age. The bank strives to create an inclusive environment where everyone can be at their best. So, they added menopause to their wellbeing agenda, building awareness and understanding across the organisation.
Ignoring menopause as a natural transition in the lives of most women and/or not supporting people in the menopause and their families can hurt a company’s reputation. Customers are nowadays more interested in how companies treat their employees.
What is the Menopause?
Menopause is characterised by changes in hormones. It refers to the last menstruation in a woman’s life without removal of the uterus (and without taking hormones) and can only be determined retrospectively 12 months after the last bleeding. The phase of life before and shortly afterwards is called “perimenopause”.
Most women will inevitably experience menopause at some point in their lives, not necessarily in their late forties or early fifties. It can also affect younger women going through medical or surgical menopause, as well as transgender and non-binary people.
In 2019, the employment rate in Germany (women between the ages of 15 and 64) was 74.7%. Nearly 40% of these women were between the age of 45 and 54 years old. The average age a woman has her menopause is between 49 and 52 years. This affects women (and their families) often at the peak of their careers and it can also be a time of life when women have also to cope with increasing care responsibilities (family members to be cared for), with age-related health problems, and they may already feel unappreciated at work and in our youth-loving society.
People going through menopause can show a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms. Many experience hot flushes and sweating, about one third have severe symptoms that can restrict their quality of life and the ability to function at work and in everyday life. The symptoms can also include sleep disorders and joint pain, mood swings, trouble focusing, memory loss, dryness of the mucous membranes and pain during sexual intercourse, other symptoms such as anxiety, irritability and depression, palpitations, dry skin, and tiredness. Several of these symptoms are neurological symptoms as the brain and ovaries are part of the neuroendocrine system. These symptoms can begin several years before menopause and last up to 13 years. The average duration of the symptoms is 7.4 years, 4.5 years of which are after menopause.
Why should Menopause be considered at the workplace?
We all know that problems outside work also influence performance at work. The fact that there is still a lot of ignorance and misunderstanding about menopause can also worsen the issue, with the topic often seen as embarrassing or even taboo or being made fun of. The experience of all people in the menopause is individual and can be vastly different, but symptoms are usually exacerbated by negative or discriminatory attitudes in the workplace.
The length of the menopausal phase with its symptoms, and the number of people experiencing it, was something I had never really considered. Then also thinking of the younger people going through it in future, made it clear that this topic was relevant for a lot of people, including family members of people going through the phase. Retaining people during difficult personal times, e.g. keeping people with knowledge at least part-time in the company, also made also sense from an operative and financial perspective.
In Germany, we have the duty of care for the health and life of employees as an employer. There are several different occupational safety and health regulations and workplace rules that tell employers to avoid dangers to life and health for the employees and even carry out psychological risk assessments. The General Equal Treatment Act protects against discrimination based on gender and age: employers must take necessary measures to prevent discrimination.
It seems logical to see physical and psychological symptoms in connection with menopause as being covered by these legal health and discrimination rules even though they are not mentioned directly in these regulations. To implement a menopause policy makes sense from a legal perspective, as appropriate preventive measures are required from the employer’s side.
Practical and Easy to Implement Actions
At first I tried to collect information about menopause at the workplace in Germany, but the obvious resources did not have much on their websites, if any, only general medical information. This shows how much this aspect is still not discussed for the workplace and we need to raise awareness. I had to turn back to sources in the UK and soon found examples for policies and support there, and then looked into the German legal background and the German statistics to be able to provide facts and numbers for the male shareholders of the company in case someone doubted the usefulness of such a policy.
I collated a list of measures that are practical and easy to implement and benefit all employees:
Make staff aware of how menopause can affect working people, particularly regarding the circumstance at the workplace. Inform them about the possible symptoms of menopause and how the staff can help people experiencing it.
2. Creating a safe space
Make sure that there is an alternative contact, if people feel uncomfortable in these circumstances to approach the direct line manager because it is a man or a younger person or both.
Make sure that the risk assessment for the workplace includes people in menopause and considers specific needs. Consult with female staff, inform line managers, and make sure that they understand and implement measures and confirm them in writing.
4. Other simple measures
- Keeping doors open
- Making sure that windows can be opened safely
- Making sure that room temperatures can be adjusted (not under 18 degrees C, so it is comfortable for all team members)
- Providing fans
- Installing blinds for the windows
- Making sure that temporary cover is arranged to allow women to use the toilet (in case of heavy/recurrent bleeding for example)
- Speedy permissions for absences to make medical appointments for menopause care
- Examination of amendments to work agreements, e.g. temporary part-time work or working from home
- Adapting processes and procedures in the workplace to support and prevent disadvantages for people in menopause
- Depending on the number of people, also starting a group for them to meet and discuss symptoms and issues regarding menopause
- Have menopause advocates to improve understanding and offer support
This is not an exhaustive list of measures; active listening to employees concerned and considering other suggestions is necessary. If you have more suggestions for further measures, please share them.
Working closely with the Executives allows Executive Assistants to look after the wellbeing of the team, ensure that executives are aware of policies that could be useful, and approach topics that have been neglected so far.
What You Can Do to Implement a Menopause Workplace Policy
- Make the Executives aware of the facts and figures of how many are or will be experiencing menopause and over what period. Make them understand the financial advantages of such a policy and even the usefulness of Wellbeing as a KPI.
- Provide the legal background in your country and use that to show that it could be necessary to implement a policy also from that perspective.
- Explain the advantage of this regarding the employer brand and company reputation (externally and internally). Raising awareness and openly discussing difficult topics such as menopause, also shows employees that they can approach the management with other topics that could be important.
- Show the Executive that implementing quite simple (and inexpensive) measures are easy and improve (work) life for employees and increase overall wellbeing.
Menopause in the Workplace
Podcast about Wellbeing as KPI
Wellbeing and financial benefit (SAP) (in German)
Useful TED Talk