Menopause is nothing new. But we’re talking about it much more. Why? Because we’re living longer and working for longer, which means more people are working through their menopause transition.
Supporting those who struggle during this time can help organisations to attract and retain the talent they need... as well as singling them out as responsible employers who look after their people.
Some people sail through their menopause. Others find they notice some symptoms, while some really struggle with a wide range of symptoms.
These don’t just switch off when they come into work, which is why it’s important for all employers to realise that supporting their colleagues if they need it can really help boost morale and keep people performing to the best of their abilities.
The facts and statistics
We know that there are 3 million women in Australia aged between 40 and 59 and that menopause-aged women make up 26 per cent of the Australian workforce, making them the fastest-growing workforce demographic. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 81 per cent of women aged between 45 and 59 are employed.
The average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51 (or earlier, for natural reasons or due to surgery or illness).
Symptoms usually start years before menopause. The current pension age is 66.5 and although women intend to retire at 64, on average they retire at 52, losing 12 years of valuable productivity. Women retire 7.4 years earlier than men, contributing to Australia’s gender pay gap of 22.8 per cent.
So, the statistics start to paint a picture of why we’re talking more about menopause in the workplace.
When we add in the fact that 3 in 4 experience symptoms, 1 in 4 serious symptoms, it’s even clearer why we need to support this time in life.
Really important to realise is that menopause isn’t a ‘women’s issue’. Some people may be supporting a friend, partner, family member or colleague. People from diverse gender expressions and identities may experience menopause or other hormonal changes.
For employers, it’s about taking a holistic approach so everyone in the workplace understands what menopause is, how it can affect people and how it can be supported at work.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Symptoms can be physical or psychological and can include:
• Difficulty sleeping, insomnia or fatigue
• Hot flushes during the day or night
• Low mood, depression or changes in mood
• Nervousness, worry or anxiety
• Reduced ability to concentrate or focus
• Problems with memory recall
• Migraines or headaches
• Aches and pains
• Irregular and/or heavy periods
• Urinary issues, e.g. increased frequency
Not everyone will experience every symptom, and these can change over time – meaning workplace support may need to be adapted.
Sadly, lack of support can lead to women leaving their jobs. In fact, 1 in 4 consider it, according to the UK Wellbeing of Women survey in 2016.
In the Women, Work and the Menopause: Releasing the Potential of Older Professional Women report, fewer than three per cent of the 601 study participants said that their workplace provided support or line management training on menopause. Clearly, there’s much to do in terms of recognising the need for support and creating the right initiatives for each workplace.
Three best practice actions for organisations
Introducing menopause support is good for commercial, legal and demographic reasons, as well as simply being the right thing to do.
It’s good for you reputationally, marking you as an employer who cares about the welfare and wellbeing of colleagues. A place people want to stay working or want to join.
There’s no one-size fits all approach. Support needs to fit around your business activities, practices, culture and size.
1. Get the conversation flowing. Bring menopause out into the open, creating an environment where it can be talked about without embarrassment, is a great place to start.
It’s also a good idea for employers to put policies or other documents in place – any way of having your menopause support in writing. This could be a formal policy or a more informal guidance document.
2. Put it in writing. However, there’s no point in having a document nobody knows is there. Organisations need to make sure everyone knows the document exists, what’s in it and how to access it.
Your document can detail reasonable adjustments your company might consider, such as better ventilation, flexible working, access to break rooms, or an extra uniform.
Remember to revisit this regularly, too. Menopause support isn’t about ticking a box and moving on. Rather, it’s about constantly looking for ways to adapt and improve how you look after your colleagues.
3. Harness the power of training. Research has explored how women want their workplaces to better support them during menopause and found raising awareness through general menopause training and improving the confidence and communication skills of managers through role specific manager training can help improve how people experience menopause at work.
Managers want training on how to have constrictive and genuinely helpful conversations, whilst ensuring they provide support within the reasonable adjustments agreed upon by their organisation.
It’s important to remember that line managers aren’t there to diagnose menopause or prescribe methods to deal with symptoms: that’s for the employee to discuss with their healthcare practitioner.
Rather, line managers are there to conduct a confidential conversation, discussing with the employee how they feel they could be supported with their symptoms.
This support may change over time, as symptoms fluctuate. Line managers can also signpost any other resources the organisation might offer, such as employee assistance programs or counselling.
Three commercial benefits
Most menopause support is fairly low cost and easy to implement. But the commercial benefits to businesses are big.
1. Reduced recruitment costs. According to The Australian HR Institute, replacing workers can cost up to 150 per cent of their full-time salary, including direct recruitment costs and bringing a new member of the team up to speed.
2. An ROI for mental health support. The Productivity Commission Inquiry Report 2020 found that for every dollar spent by businesses on successful mental health programs, organisations can expect a return on investment of between $1.00 and $4.00 with an average return of $2.30.
3. Reduced cost of absence. According to the UK’s Fawcett Report, people experiencing menopause take up to 40 per cent more leave days. Although difficult to quantify, researchers estimate sick leave costs Australian businesses $2,000 per employee per year.
Keeping in line with legislation
Employers need to comply with certain legislation to support menopause at work, including:
Respect@Work legislation, which places a new positive duty on employers to eliminate workplace sex discrimination including:
• Workplace sexual harassment, sex discrimination and sex-based harassment
• Conduct that amounts to subjecting a person to a hostile work environment on the ground of sex
• Certain acts of victimisation
Menopause is covered under the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Act 2022 and the amended Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and can be on the grounds of sex, age or disability discrimination.
There have been some menopause-related tribunals in the UK, which have found in favour of the employee. It’s highly likely there will be similar action in Australia to come. The cost to an employer to defend any action cannot be reclaimed from the losing party, so it’s well worth employers staying on the right side of legislation.
Meanwhile, harmonised Safe Work Australia regulations require a person conducting business or undertaking (PCBU) is required to eliminate 'psychosocial hazards', or minimise them so far as is reasonably practicable.
During the transition into and out of menopause, women are at up to 4 times greater risk of a depressive episode. Psychosocial safety laws vary between states so it’s important to seek legal advice to understand what the requirements are in each of the states you operate in.
Employers never want issues to get this far, and taking steps to provide support during menopause can help protect them from legal entanglements.
Most people now work through their menopause and for years beyond. Forward-thinking employers who offer the right support to all colleagues that need it through the menopause transition will find they have a much more motivated, happier workforce. People that want to work for them... and stay working for them.