In March 2019, the CIPD launched a suite of resources and guidance on the menopause – our aim is for every organisation to break down the stigma and create menopause-friendly workplaces. The big interest our launch generated in the media and among our membership showed that we were pushing at an open door in many ways. Two years ago, our research showed that 10% of organisations had a framework to support women experiencing menopause transition. Now, that percentage has risen to almost a quarter (24%) which shows progress. We think the tide is starting to turn about the menopause, with more awareness and demand for change building all the time.

While these findings are based on UK data, the broader trends and implications should be of interest wherever you are based. 

This month the CIPD helped to launch and signed the Menopause Workplace Pledge. As an employer, we made the following three simple commitments:

  1. Recognise that the menopause can be an issue in the workplace and that women need support 
  2. Talk openly, positively and respectfully about the menopause 
  3. Commit to actively support and inform employees affected by the menopause. 

We hope every organisation will follow suit and sign the Pledge.

The menopause should be a public policy imperative 

Also in 2019, we launched the CIPD Manifesto for the menopause at work with MPs in Parliament. Our manifesto calls on the Government to recognise the menopause as a public policy issue at the heart of women’s economic participation. 

Our Manifesto specifically calls on the Government to: 

  1. Ensure that menopause is referenced as a priority issue in its own public policy agenda on work, diversity and inclusion. 
  2. Nominate a Menopause Ambassador to represent the interests of women experiencing menopause transition across Government departments. 
  3. Support an employer-led campaign to raise awareness of the menopause as a workplace issue.

While our focus relates to the improvement of policy and practice in employment, we know that we need change across all aspects of society to achieve the necessary shift in attitudes and support for women experiencing the menopause. This includes the medical profession, for example, the training and education of GPs so that women can access appropriate understanding, advice and treatment. 

In terms of the latter, we support Carolyn Harris MP’s Private Members Bill calling for Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to be exempt from NHS prescription charges in England, as is already the case in Wales and Scotland. There is also a campaign through the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Menopause for a #menopauserevolution which the CIPD is fully behind. The Bill and the work of the APPG aim to drive through much broader change in society, including better support for women experiencing the menopause transition in the workplace.  

The CIPD has also just responded to two parliamentary inquiries on the menopause, one by the APPG and the second launched by the Women and Equalities Select Committee. It’s very encouraging to see the parliamentary spotlight on this issue.

There is progress – but more work to be done

Organisations have a huge role to play in recognising that menopause symptoms can be severe and seriously impact on people’s interaction with work. Despite progress in many workplaces, too many women continue to suffer in silence while often just a few small changes – such as a desk fan or flexible working – could transform the quality of their working life. Employers should support someone with menopausal symptoms, in the same way, they would support an individual with any other fluctuating health condition.

Although more organisations now have a framework in place to help women during the menopause transition, we still have a long way to go before every employee feels able to talk about it and seek support. And so we need to build on the momentum and drive home the compelling business rationale for change: 
  • We have almost four million women aged 45-55 in work in the UK and so there are few workplaces where the menopause isn’t relevant
  • It’s a key recruitment and retention issue; women experiencing menopause are often at the peak of their skills and experience and it doesn’t make sense for employers to miss out on this valuable female talent
  • There’s a strong compliance case – employers have a duty of care for employees’ health, safety and wellbeing and not to discriminate on the grounds of gender, age or disability.

According to CIPD research, three in five (59%) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 with menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work; three in ten (30%) said they had been unable to go into work because of their symptoms, but only a quarter of them felt able to tell their manager the real reason for their absence. With the right support, there’s no need for women to press pause on their careers during the natural transition of menopause. But many women will continue to suffer in silence unless we break the taboo and start talking openly about the menopause at work. 

Creating a menopause friendly workplace needs a ‘whole organisation’ approach

Developing an organisational framework to support female employees experiencing the menopause transition means recognising it as an equality, occupational health and people management issue. Employers, therefore, need to approach the menopause holistically and integrate relevant provisions across the policies and practices in all of these three areas to be effective. The CIPD has an impressive range of practical resources to help every employer to create a menopause-friendly workplace – these include a guide for HR, a shorter practical one for line managers, top tips, posters and leaflets. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to menopause transition due to the unique way in which an individual can experience the range of potential symptoms, and so support and adjustments need to be tailored to suit an individual’s unique needs. Therefore, a ‘cafeteria approach’ can be helpful, such as tailored absence policies, specialist support from an employee assistance programme and/or occupational health, flexible working arrangements, bespoke workplace adjustments and informal support networks such as menopause cafes or employee resource groups. Developing and communicating a strategy based on employee needs and preference helps to empower the woman experiencing the menopause transition to manage her symptoms with the right organisational support in place at the right time.

The menopause is a natural stage of life experienced by most women. A reluctance to discuss the menopause is understandable, and no one should feel pressurised to speak about their health. But neither should there be any need for women to feel isolated and scared to seek the support that could transform their working life. The onus is on the organisation to create a culture that encourages compassion and courage, as well as the confidence to speak up.

About the author

Rachel Suff, Senior Policy Adviser, Employee Relations

Rachel Suff joined the CIPD as a policy adviser in 2014 to increase the CIPD’s public policy profile and engage with politicians, civil servants, policy-makers and commentators to champion better work and working lives. An important part of her role is to ensure that the views of the profession inform CIPD policy thinking on issues such as health and wellbeing, employee engagement and employment relations. As well as conducting research on UK employment issues, she helps guide the CIPD’s thinking in relation to European developments affecting the world of work. Rachel’s prior roles include working as a researcher for XpertHR and as a senior policy adviser at Acas.

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