Leadership in Times of Transition – 5 Tips on Supporting Employees Experiencing Menopause

So, just when managers thought they’d got their heads around the latest managerial concepts for the 2020s (goodbye resilience, hello psychological safety), here’s another one: menopause.

Right now, some of your staff will be going through this major life transition. And if you’re not supporting them properly, it’s almost certainly costing your business. In fact, an estimated 14 million working days are lost in the UK alone from women taking time off to alleviate symptoms.

Given that it’s now being termed a ‘disability’ according to new guidance by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, this is the time for organisations to examine anew the realities and policy implications surrounding the menopause. 

A growing issue 

A quarter of the workforce is thought to be of menopausal age. That’s a lot.  On top of this, over 50s are the fastest growing demographic in the UK and many other countries.  

Women in this age group have often reached senior positions within an organisation, but many resign due to lack of support with their symptoms. Losing them means losing years of experience and wisdom. Replacing someone of that calibre can be extremely time consuming and costly. 

So, as a manager, what do you need to know about these inevitable hormonal changes that will affect your workforce now and in the future? And, just as importantly, what can you do to help them optimise their wellbeing and performance? 

First, let’s start with the basics 

The menopause occurs when a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a period. It’s caused by a sudden drop in progesterone, oestrogen and to a lesser extent testosterone.  

This decline in hormones contributes to the violent, dramatic and frankly baffling myriad of symptoms experienced by many women.    

The average age to reach menopause is 51 (UK and USA). Symptoms can start in the years leading up to it, known as perimenopause, usually in a woman’s 40s. 

Symptoms at work 

Let’s look at some of the facts: 

In 2023, the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD) surveyed data from 2000 women aged 40-60. Of these, 57% reported experiencing menopause symptoms, the most common being mood/anxiety related (67%), sleep disturbance (66%) and hot flushes (66%). 

In the same survey, 67% of menopausal women reported that their symptoms have a mostly negative effect on their work performance.  Of these: 

  • 79% had concentration issues 
  • 68% felt increased stress 
  • 49% were less patient with colleagues/clients  
  • 45% had increased anger 
  • 35% made more mistakes at work 
  • 14% took time off as sick leave 

Effect on wellbeing  

Some women apparently sail through the menopause without a care in the world (lucky them). Others experience such dramatic effects that it drastically reduces quality of life and work performance.   

Imagine being so exhausted that you’re crawling into bed at 6.30pm, waking 10 times a night with hot sweats and fainting in the middle of work due to sudden blood sugar drops.  

How would you feel if you kept forgetting things and started to wonder whether you have early onset Alzheimers? Or you’re so crippled by anxiety that you keep obsessively checking things, like logging onto your bank account daily when you previously only checked it monthly?  

This is what it’s like for many of your menopausal employees. 

Bringing your best self to work 

Yet despite this, the reality is that very nearly everyone turns up and saves their best for the workplace.  Because people like performing well, doing their best, achieving their potential and feeling fulfilled.   

If you’re a manager, ask yourself this:  Do I want my staff unable to function at home because they’re so drained by bringing their best self to work that they have nothing left to give outside it?  If the answer to this question for you is ‘yes’ there’s no point in reading any further.   

But if as a manager you’re interested in the whole lived life of your staff, read on to see what you personally, or your organisation, can do. Afterall, the healthier and happier an employee is, the more likely it is that they’ll perform well. 

Effect on performance 

Before we get into reporting on any possible performance penalty or bonus of the menopause, one thing needs to be made clear: nearly all the data is based on self-reported performance. And women have a tendency to under report their own perceived work performance.  So, please be aware that the following statistics are from women assessing themselves. 

This is why we need to be very precise around the wording of research. Just because a female reports a negative impact from symptoms at work, this doesn’t necessarily translate into a negative effect on performance.   

Firstly, the impact of menopause at work isn’t always negative: of the women who report menopause symptoms in the CIPD survey, 67% say these effects are negative, 28% neutral and 1% positive.

In fact, in a Mayo Clinic study, only 13% of women self-reported negative work outcomes (as opposed to 67% reporting perceived negative effects in the CIPD survey).  

So secondly, while many women are reporting moderate and severe effects at work, these effects aren’t always translating into self-reported negative work outcomes.   

Thirdly, many women with menopause symptoms are not reporting these symptoms. 

Why? Well, 41% are worried that others will perceive that their performance will be affected and 31% felt that their manager wouldn’t be supportive. Some menopausal women fear age stigma, lack of promotion opportunities or even redundancy threat.   

5 tips for managing menopausal staff 

1. Improve awareness 

Creating awareness about someone else’s experience can be tricky to impossible.  Even seasoned trauma and grief counsellors admit to being better at their job once they’ve experienced trauma or grief themselves   

So, as a man who will never experience the menopause, or a younger woman who thinks it will never happen to her, what could you do to better understand your employees? 

Firstly, you could have a private conversation and ask a few of these questions:   

  • ‘How many times did you wake up last night’? 
  • ‘How many times have you had to remove clothing due to sudden heat over last 24 hours’? 
  • ‘Has your phone behaviour changed lately’? 
  • ‘What rating would you give the quality of your life right now’? 
  • ‘What time did you go to bed the last few days’? 
  • ‘What are you doing in the evenings when you get home’? 

Now put yourself in their shoes, experiencing their life. This is true compassion – the ability to imagine yourself in the other person’s exact position. What would that be like for you?   

What would your work and life be like if you had frequent ‘brain fog’ or felt sweat pouring down your face 20 times a day?  If you ask these questions, you’ll get a decent snapshot of what’s actually going on for your staff. 

2. Proactively support staff 

While 17% of women have considered leaving work due to lack of support, support from managers and colleagues mitigates menopausal symptoms.   

Women with an empathetic, compassionate manager report fewer negative effects and the number of women reporting no effect from menopausal symptoms increases.   

With support from employers and managers, women experiencing menopausal symptoms report less stress, less pressure, fewer mistakes, less sick leave and more patience. 

Nevertheless, women still feel that they receive more support from colleagues than from managers. This is an obvious opportunity for employers and leaders to proactively support staff experiencing menopause symptoms in order to lessen their adverse effects and increase organisation performance.   

3. Foster a culture of psychological safety 

Creating a psychologically safe atmosphere is key. Women need to feel that they belong, that they can be frank about their experiences and that they’ll be treated with empathy and compassion.   

Some people simply won’t take the risk of being honest about their struggles if they don’t feel psychological safe, so they won’t get the support they need.   

Psychological safety isn’t just about warm fuzzy kindness and belonging. It’s also about enabling employees to feel confident in taking risks, to be honest about their feelings and to challenge ideas without fearing a backlash.   

4. Develop a menopause policy

Creating a documented menopause policy is crucial. The heartening news is they’re becoming increasingly common in many organisations. 

Currently,  24% of workplaces have a known menopause policy or support.  While this seems like a low figure, there’s good news.  Firstly, this figure appears to be increasing year on year.  Secondly, it’s quite an easy fix for organisations.  The most effective menopause policies and support involve:  

  • All staff training to raise awareness and break the taboo 
  • A written policy document, there’s a lot of online advice about how to create one 
  • A menopause support network 
  • A menopause champion (ideally a senior leader) 

5. Take practical steps to alleviate symptoms 

  • Offer desk fans and cool rooms to reduce hot flushes 
  • Agree flexible working hours and locations, and last-minute flexibility 
  • Adopt a relaxed uniform clothing policy 
  • Offer counselling  

The benefits of proactive menopause support 

According to Henpicked, an organisation that offers workplace menopause training, the benefits of best practice are tangible.  These include: 

  • Increased staff retention (therefore not incurring the high cost of new staff onboarding/training, estimated to be up to £30,000) 
  • Better performance 
  • Fewer absences due to sickness 
  • Decreased risk of employee related issues 
  • Fewer resignations from senior menopausal staff 

Do the right thing 

Whether you’re motivated by better life, better performance or both for your organisation’s staff, increasing your understanding and creating best menopause practice is the right thing to do. It’s also the performant thing to do to improve organisation function.   

Women of menopausal age aren’t going anywhere. Given that they’re the fastest growing workplace demographic, how can you help them optimise their wellbeing and performance during this challenging time of transition?