While global employers are introducing inclusive benefits and programs to support employees across all life stages, many U.K.-based companies are shifting their focus to one life stage that has typically been taboo.

Cereal manufacturer Kellogg Co. is training managers on how to talk about menopause. Multi-national telecommunications firm Vodafone Group is introducing a toolkit focused on raising understanding of the transition and offering staff the ability to take leave for sickness or medical treatments. And global insurance company RSA Group is on the path to becoming a menopause-friendly accredited employer.

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“Menopause has been more and more prevalent in our discussions for quite some time,” says Sandy Hildyard Harris, RSA Group’s human resources advisor. “We decided in 2019 that we didn’t have anything at all in that space and we needed to look at how to try to address that.”

In 2020, the organization launched employee and leader guidance, which includes talking about menopause and where to get support. In 2021, it launched a campaign — Pause for Thought — that provided a refresher on the guidance and confirmed the organization’s commitment to becoming accredited as a menopause-friendly workplace in 2022.

The accreditation, which is provided by U.K.-based Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, includes six key elements: culture, policies and practices, training, engagement, facilities and evaluation. “It’s communicating it and making people aware, but getting [leadership] buy-in as well,” says Hildyard Harris. “And then, once we’ve trained advocates and champions, that will help drive those messages . . . and people will know there’s someone to go to, just as you would a mental-health first-aider.”

Menopause in the workplace

The new programs follow the Menopause (Support and Services) Bill that’s currently going through U.K. parliament. It includes a focus on menopause in the workplace, making hormone replacement therapy free for those going through the transition and ensuring clinical staff are trained on the topic.

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In Canada, the average age of menopause is 51.5 years, according to Mount Sinai Hospital’s Meno-pause Clinic, with more than 90 per cent of women menopausal by age 55-56. About 80 per cent will experience symptoms like hot flashes, unpredictable heavy periods, sleep disruptions and mood swings — potentially posing challenges at work.

By the numbers

62% of women experiencing menopause said it has impacted them at work;

50% of those who had symptoms felt there’s a stigma around talking about menopause;

44% said they’ve felt too embarrassed to ask for support in the workplace; and

• 66% agreed there should be more workplace support for women going through menopause.

Source: A 2021 global survey by Opinium for Vodafone Group

Indeed, 42 per cent of U.S. women said they’ve considered leaving their job because of menopause, according to a 2021 survey by Fertifa and the Latte Lounge. Seventy per cent didn’t speak to their employer about their symptoms, with 53 per cent feeling it wasn’t necessary to speak up, 26 per cent too embarrassed and 28 per cent afraid it would make them look incapable of doing their job properly.

“Speaking personally, when I first joined RSA back in March 2020, I would have been really embarrassed to talk about the ‘M’ word,” says Helen Simpson, RSA Group’s HR advice leader. “It’s taken me a lot of practice to keep talking about it and that’s me, a person who’s gone through it. . . . It’s inevitable, it’s natural, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. . . . It’s going to happen to every woman.”

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The typical age range of menopause is a growing demographic in the workplace, with many women leaving their careers because of the symptoms and the lack of supports from employers, notes Simpson. “That leaves a big gap — that person may be in the prime of their career and they’ve got 30 years of working experience under their belts and they’re not easily replaced. It’s all about having those open conversations and educating our leaders so they are comfortable and have enough knowledge about menopause to support people in their team who might be experiencing severe symptoms [and] that menopause is talked about as openly as pregnancy or a cold and is part of our normal conversations.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion

Deborah Garlick, director of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, worked with the team that wrote the Government Equalities Office report on menopause at work, which was published in July 2017 and focused on the key reasons why the topic is important for employers.

She highlights the challenges in recruiting and retaining talent. “In June 2021, we saw the first employers putting in their job adverts that they’re a menopause-supportive employer. . . . There are also indicators that [being a menopause-supportive workplace] helps improve performance and motivation and that makes sense because . . . if you know you’re employer has got your back if you hit a bump in the road during menopause, you’re more likely to be at your best and be loyal to them.”

It also ties into the U.K.’s Equality Act 2010, which has protective characteristics against age, sex and disability discrimination. Garlick also points out that many people think menopause only affects those who experience the transition firsthand, “but we get a lot of men and young adults coming on the sessions and what we hear from them is their partner is experiencing it or their mother. They’re really keen to learn more because it’s an absolute mystery to them.”

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While Kim Siddall, vice-president of enterprise consulting for Western Canada at People Corporation, says she isn’t hearing Canadian employers talk about menopause yet, she agrees it should be part of a broader DEI conversation. “Unless it’s something that touches you, I’d say you don’t necessarily have an appreciation for the breadth of things that come along with menopause,” she says, noting it ties in with other issues around women’s health.

Employers can change an employee’s desk location so they can be closer to a window or a bathroom and offer flexibility or hybrid work arrangements for days when an employee isn’t feeling well, she adds. “There’s a mental-health component here, there’s a brain fog component here. I think women help each other [and] it would be wonderful if organizations helped the women in their workforces as well.”

Siddall suggests organizations dip their toes into the menopause conversation through their health promotion and wellness education activities. “Do a thing about menopause, the possible symptoms, what’s available in your benefits plan or wellness offering that helps support women who are in that stage of life. You start the conversation, it’s a little bit friendlier.”

Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.