Managing female employee health – menopause study brings issues of female employee health challenges to national stage

Female Employee Health

Employers need to work harder to improve female employee health engagement as well as doing so for the workforce overall, suggest news reports this week.

A new UK survey of the impact on employee health of menopausal and peri-menopausal symptoms reported on Sky News revealed a shocking statistic that 99% of UK female workers who had experienced it felt that it had a significant impact on their careers.

The survey of nearly 4000 women revealed some worrying trends. 59% of the respondents had needed to take time off work due to symptoms, while 18% were off for more than eight weeks – half of these either resigned or took early retirement, thus leaving the job market prematurely.

The issue is moving increasingly to the heart of the overall employee health debate, most notably in the NHS. 

Our employee health director Dr Steve Boorman has observed this. He comments: that “menopause is increasingly being talked about and recognised as a significant issue. It is important to men as well as women, both in supporting family or relatives but also supporting work colleagues – so it does genuinely affect us all. Ensuring employers develop good support and cultures where staff feel able to express needs is vital, not only for menopause issues but many other health conditions too.”

Impact of menopause on work

Menopause symptoms are wide ranging and can last for up to 8 years. Insomnia and poor sleep quality are common, along with night and daytime temperature spikes (hot flushes), headaches, joint pain and stiffness, recurrent UTIs and more – along with an increasing risk of osteoporosis.   

Click here for the complete NHS list of menopause symptoms

Symptoms and their impacts can affect work attendance, performance and interactions with colleagues and others. As well as physical unwellness, other impacts can include irritability, difficulty in concentrating, memory impairment and feelings of anxiety.

There are mental health effects, with many women worrying about implications, losing confidence in their skills and capabilities, or facing depression. Embarrassment can prevent them from being honest with their employer about the reasons for absence or performance issues.

Impact of menopause on organisations

Action is needed to ensure that failure to adapt around changing needs of women in the workplace during their career does not become career limiting for individuals, nor lead to damaging talent loss for the organisation.  Dr Newson, the author of the report, commented that “The average age of menopause in the UK is 51, at precisely the point where many women are at the peak of their careers with an abundance of skills and experience to offer.”  

  • Women in the NHS make up
    • 88.6% of 342,104 nurses and health visitors
    • 42.5% of 18,509 ambulance staff
    • 77.6% of 172,267 scientific, therapeutic and technical staff
    • 62% of 22,552 managers
    • 76.7% of 1.3 million full time NHS staff overall

Source: NHS England 2021

How can employers manage menopause better?

Employers certainly need to acknowledge the impact of menopause as a driver of both short- and long-term absence, but that alone is not enough.

Many female employees experiencing symptoms may attend work regardless. Presenteeism while unwell is an unwelcome trend under any circumstance and can be particularly damaging in highly demanding roles such as healthcare. Sensitive handling is essential to avoid this.

Organisations need to educate managers companywide to understand the impact of this health challenge. Managers also need help to engage effectively around what can often seem a taboo subject. They need to hold open and informed health conversations with female staff.

60% of women in the study said that their workplace offered them no support on the subject at all.

Menopause in the workplace

One reason that managing the menopause at work better should also be a priority for employers is legal. If any employee is put at any disadvantage or treated unfavourably due to their symptoms, this could be discriminatory.

Learn more about menopause and the law with ACAS

Another good reason is that, without encouragement and proactive engagement, menopause always presents a risk of going ‘under the radar.’ There can be reluctance to discuss the subject on the part of women themselves, and among managers.  Making assumptions related to age can stand in the way of open discussions – some women may experience menopause before the age of 40.  

“The majority of women are unwilling to disclose menopause-related health problems to line managers, most of whom are men or younger than them”

Faculty of Occupational Medicine

Guidance on menopause and the workplace from FOM

The Empactis Employee Health Management System is designed to help provide managers the information and tools they need at the point when they need it, to enable effective employee health conversations and to enable supporting actions. These include supporting conversations, and referring female workers to support from others such as HR and Occupational Health services, or so that they can access organisation’s Employee Assistance Plans.  While Empactis also enables employers to monitor, manage, track and analyse their absence and employee health dynamics.