Fans and flexible working: menopause friendly workplaces in UK

Anna Mooney.

Menopausal women embarrassed to admit to symptoms or to ask for help, last week’s report from University of Leicester concludes – and it calls for a big change in workplace attitudes and culture.

Coping alone

A call for more menopause-friendly workplaces has come from a new Government report prepared by a team from the University of Leicester.

In the most comprehensive study of its kind, the report reveals that ‘many women tend to feel that they need to cope alone’ - because of ‘a reluctance to speak up at work’.

The report ‘The effects of menopause transition on women’s economic participation in the UK’ was funded by the Government’s Equalities Office, and was carried out by four researchers from the University of Leicester School of Business and the University of Bristol School of Economics, Finance and Management.

Simple steps, big difference

Their conclusions were:

That employers can do a great deal to help reduce problems for mid-life women workers, including simple measures like providing USB fans and introducing flexible working patterns so women can cope better with menopause-related sleep loss.

That compared to other reproductive stages such as pregnancy and maternity, menopause is not well understood in or catered for in UK workplaces, yet it can be equally disruptive

That organisations should pay more attention to transition, in order to ensure mid-life women have the highest possible quality of working life, and that includes fostering open and supportive workplace environments around menopause 

Negative effects on working women

Professor Jo Brewis, who was the lead author of the study from the University of Leicester,  said: “Menopause transition has both negative and positive effects on working women, although there is more evidence for the former, including reduced productivity, higher rates of absenteeism and lower job satisfaction. The evidence indicates that many women find transition symptoms, especially hot flushes, difficult to manage and that being at work can exacerbate these symptoms.

“But women tend to feel that they need to cope alone, for example because they don’t want their manager or colleagues to think their performance is being affected or because they find the prospect of disclosure embarrassing. There is also some evidence of gendered ageism in organizations, a factor which requires more research.”

Menopause now commonplace in the workplace

Professor Brewis said more women in the UK were working than ever before – some 70% as it stands – but they also outnumber men in many labour market sectors, including health and social care, leisure, the professions and customer service.

Moreover women now work much later in life: indeed the largest increase in UK employment rates since the early 1990s has been amongst women of 50 and over. This is for a variety of reasons, including an ageing population more broadly, employers’ efforts to retain skilled workers and increases in the state pension age. As a result, with the average age of menopause being 51, many more women in the UK now experience this natural mid-life phenomenon whilst in employment, and are managing menopause transition symptoms through their forties.

“Our report establishes the relationship between menopause transition and employment based on the available evidence for the last thirty years, in plain and accessible English,” said Professor Brewis.

You can read the full report here.

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