Menopause is a natural and inevitable phase in the life of a woman. Unfortunately, it comes with a unique set of challenges that affects not only one's personal life but also professionally. While, over time, society as a whole has made considerable progress in addressing gender equality in the workplace, one cannot deny or ignore the significant gap that still exists when it comes to supporting women undergoing menopause.
The menopause gap can be defined as the lack of awareness and support for women experiencing menopause in the workplace. Usually occurring between the ages of 45 and 55, menopause tends to impact women when they are likely at the peak of their careers. In many organisations, menopausal women may be amongst the fastest-growing demographic in the workforce.
The emotional and physical symptoms, such as mood swings, hot flashes, and fatigue, among others, tend to have a negative impact on not only their well-being but their performance as well. While this makes it challenging to maintain productivity at work, the workplace often fails or is slow to recognise these problems as 'real' concerns, which leads to women feeling unsupported. Many also feel uncomfortable discussing menopause, which is still considered taboo.
While HR departments are crucial in promoting inclusive workplaces, the lack of general awareness and education about menopause poses a significant challenge, emphasising the need for increased attention. A recent incident highlights this issue, where an employee was accused by her boss of using menopause as an excuse.
Karen Farquharson, a 49-year-old employee at Thistle Marine, an engineering firm in Scotland, faced this ordeal. Having worked at the organisation since 1995, she informed her boss, 72-year-old Jim Clark, about her menopause symptoms and associated challenges, including anxiety and brain fog. In December 2022, she requested to work from home for two days due to menopausal bleeding and adverse weather conditions near her residence.
On the third day, when she arrived at work at 2 pm, Clark sarcastically commented, "Oh, I see you've made it in." Despite explaining her situation, her boss dismissed her reasons, asserting that everyone experiences aches and pains. Deeply affected by this response, Farquharson took legal action against the company for unfair dismissal and harassment. Subsequently, the 49-year-old was granted a compensation of Rs 37.5 lakh (37,000 pounds), as reported by BBC.
In response to this shared biological challenge that every woman encounters, People Matters got in an exclusive conversation with Deepnarayan Tripathi, Group Head HR at Tenon Group, to gain insights into effectively combatting this issue.
1. Flexible work arrangements for menopause
One way that the menopause gap can be addressed by organisations is by implementing flexible work arrangements. Women experiencing unpredictable menopause symptoms require additional support in order to handle their workload. By getting remote work options and flexible hours, women may be better equipped to manage their symptoms and perform better, suggested the Group Head HR at Tenon Group.
“A step like this will also have a positive impact on the larger female workforce across the organisation not only for women undergoing menopause but also those suffering from other chronic health issues, parenting requirements and others - overall promoting a more compassionate workplace culture,” he added.
2. Mental health support
Besides its physical symptoms, menopause affects women's mental and emotional wellbeing. “The increase in hormonal changes could often lead to depression, anxiety, and mood swings, impacting not only their self-esteem and confidence but also enhancement in stress from the workplace.”
“HR team members need to enable systemic changes to prioritise mental health while creating employee assistance programs, allowing access to counselling services, and spreading awareness, to help reduce the taboo surrounding menopause,” stated Mr Tripathi.
3. Educating HR professionals
One of the first steps to tackle the menopause gap is for HR professionals to educate themselves through proper training on menopause. This will help them understand the physical and emotional aspects of women's challenges and enable them to develop the right programs and policies to address these concerns. “Educating HR professionals will make them better advocates to support the needs of women,” he said.
4. Normalising menopause
As mentioned above, menopause is still considered taboo, and people often hesitate to discuss it openly. HR professionals must promote open discussions on such topics to help foster an atmosphere and culture at the workplace where women feel safe enough to discuss their experiences and voice their concerns.
“While currently, the menopause gap is quite broad, HR departments can play a significant role in normalising these issues and fighting the stereotypes while creating an inclusive and supportive work culture for women, no matter what career stage. After all, the menopause gap at work is a significant challenge that women face but is often overlooked by HR departments. By raising awareness, providing education, and implementing supportive policies, HR professionals can bridge this gap and create work environments that are inclusive, understanding, and accommodating for women experiencing menopause,” emphasised the Group Head HR at Tenon Group.
“It is crucial to recognise that the challenges women face during this transition are real and deserve the attention and support of the workplace to ensure gender equality and employee wellbeing,” he concluded.