Management Reader, Dr Vanessa Beck, researches women’s experiences of menopause in the workplace

Woman sat at an office desk Many working women today are continuing to face prejudice and insecurities around their menopause. University of Bristol Business School’s Dr Vanessa Beck, along with colleagues at The Open University and De Montfort University, conducted research on the taboo surrounding menopause at work.

The aim of their research was to establish advice, support and policies that make the menopause part of everyday conversations in working environments, and helps women experiencing menopausal transitions and their employers deal with this difficult phase.

Whilst carrying out their research, it was discovered that many challenges remain in being able to talk openly and normally about the menopause at work, with others often considering age as a link to performance. By undertaking what they called ‘academic activism’, Vanessa and her colleagues provided women with ideas for their transitions and to remove barriers when discussing menopause at work.

The awareness raised of women’s varying menopausal experiences helped to increase women’s confidence and reassurance that they weren’t alone. Collaborating with a number of menopause advocates, including the TUC, Menopause in the Workplace, and a range of organisations including Bristol City Council, they were able to create a broader picture of how menopausal transitions are perceived in a variety of working environments.

In the UK, the average age of natural menopause is 51, meaning more women will go through the menopause whilst at work. Their survey of 5399 individuals from the general population found the top menopause symptoms affecting women’s working lives were fatigue (40.3%), hot flushes (35.1%), difficulty focusing or concentrating (34.3%), and anxiety and worry (31.9%).

The survey also revealed that many older workers are still facing issues around the use of performance management in organisations. One Menopause Survey participant stated:

“I have been on Zoladex injections to put me into a medical menopause for the past nine months running up to having a hysterectomy two weeks ago. I had bladder urgency and migraines, and I was off sick from work a few times, for which I was then threatened with disciplinary action.”

It’s apparent that absence and sickness policies still need addressing, so that those experiencing the menopause can talk to their line managers confidentially and comfortably, without being judged or threatened with disciplinary action.

Normalising the menopause at work is just the beginning. It’s hoped this can spearhead positive change across all aspects of employment relations, gendered ageism and performance management, as well as help to address concerns around the gender pay and pension gaps.

As a direct result of the research, 12 institutions in the UK are known to have adopted new menopause policies or guidelines. A further nine institutions have reinforced existing developments to support menopausal employees. To date (as of July 2020), a total of 47,617 employees and 1004 FTEs (64% female : 36% male) in these organisations have been impacted by the research. Such policies/guidelines and open discussions normalise the menopause experience for women and build more inclusive and supportive workplaces.

Prioritising employee’s wellbeing and stress levels at work could contribute to reduced absence rates and staff turnover. The research carried out here and the introduction of menopause policies in organisations, amplifies the need to reduce the pressures on women experiencing the menopause at both a cultural and organisational level.

A simple slogan summarises the main reasons why all organisations should take the menopause seriously. Remember it; everybody should be ‘aware, care and confident to act’.

Read the full report: Women’s experiences of menopause transition and performance management