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Menopause in the workplace: Building evidence, changing workplaces, supporting women

      Keywords

      The welcome release of the Global Consensus Statement on Menopause in the Workplace from the European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS) marks a watershed in the study of this field. It provides a clear statement on the current state of scientific knowledge and an actionable roadmap for researchers and practitioners to advance the field into the future.
      Menopause has long been a taboo subject in many workplaces, but the silence is now being broken. A significant rise in multidisciplinary research in the last decade, increased focus from governments and employers concerned about an ageing workforce, and greater media and celebrity attention underscore the interest and importance of this issue. Unfortunately, progress in recognising and addressing the needs of women experiencing menopausal symptoms at work has been uneven. Specifically, the greatest advances have been made in European countries such as the UK and for certain types of organisations and workers, typically large private- and public-sector employers, and professional (white) women.
      As captured by the EMAS statement, the current evidence base highlights the diversity of women's experience as well as the two-way relationship between menopause and work. For some women, menopausal symptoms have limited perceived impact on their work [
      • Hickey M.
      • Riach K.
      • Kachouie R.
      • Jack G.
      No sweat: managing menopausal symptoms at work.
      ], and menopause can be associated with positive outcomes such as increased energy, or enhanced self-beliefs and greater perceived autonomy [
      • Jack G.
      • Riach K.
      • Bariola E.
      Temporality and gendered agency: menopausal subjectivities in women’s work.
      ]. For others, however, the picture is very different. Symptoms such as hot flushes can have perceived negative effects on work performance and prompt feelings of shame or embarrassment [
      • Griffiths A.
      • MacLennan S.J.
      • Hassard J.
      Menopause and work: an electronic survey of employees’ attitudes in the UK.
      ], while sleep disturbance or fatigue following night sweats, or the unpredictability of menstrual bleeding, may make work more difficult [
      • Jack G.
      • Riach K.
      • Bariola E.
      Temporality and gendered agency: menopausal subjectivities in women’s work.
      ].
      Burgeoning evidence suggests that the workplace environment has a direct effect on the experience of menopause. Certain physical (e.g., workplace temperature and ventilation), psychosocial (e.g., perceived managerial support and flexibility, formal meetings or high-visibility work like giving presentations) and inhospitable organisational cultural factors (e.g., circulating negative gender- and age-based stereotypes of midlife female workers) can shape women's experience by aggravating or ameliorating symptoms [
      • Jack G.
      • Riach K.
      • Bariola E.
      Temporality and gendered agency: menopausal subjectivities in women’s work.
      ,
      • Griffiths A.
      • MacLennan S.J.
      • Hassard J.
      Menopause and work: an electronic survey of employees’ attitudes in the UK.
      ,
      • Bariola E.
      • Jack G.
      • Pitts M.
      • Riach K.
      • Sarrel P.
      Employment conditions and work-related stressors are associated with menopausal symptom reporting among perimenopausal and postmenopausal women.
      ]. Employers’ incapacity to support them through menopause can mean women take their talents elsewhere.
      Crucially, menopause at work is part of a wider tapestry of events and concerns, which may include caring responsibilities for children or parents, other health issues, ageing, relationship status and quality of relationship, and financial security. More information is needed about the interplay between these factors and women's experience of menopause in the workplace.
      Employers generally have a legal duty of care to protect the health and well-being of their employees. Evidence from UK employment tribunals suggests that menopause may be protected within the context of equalities legislation while some commentators have indicated menopause may be protected through Health and Safety Acts and jurisdiction. Beyond legal compliance, there is also a strong business case for supporting women in midlife and beyond (post-menopause), as they represent a talented, experienced yet often overlooked or ‘untapped’ workplace cohort. Together, these factors provide a pressing argument why organisations should act to better support women managing menopausal symptoms in the workplace [
      • Brewis J.
      • Atkinson C.
      • Beck V.
      • Davies A.
      • Duberley J.
      Menopause and the workplace: New directions in HRM research and HR practice.
      ].
      A growing number of private and public organisations including universities, trade unions, TV stations, retailers, transportation companies and the police force have instituted menopause policies or guidelines, education and training for managers, or made other modifications to their workplace environments. Peak bodies, employer and employee associations, trade unions and academic research teams have also produced valuable guidelines, resources, and frameworks or toolkits [
      • Jack G.
      • Riach K.
      • Bariola E.
      • Pitts M.
      • Schapper J.
      • Sarrel P.
      Menopause in the workplace: what employers should be doing.
      ,
      • Hardy C.
      • Hunter M.S.
      • Griffiths A.
      Menopause and work: an overview of UK guidance.
      ] (see also MIPO, Menopause Information Pack for Organizations, at https://www.menopauseatwork.org/).
      While recent advances have been very encouraging, there is still much to be done. For example, more information is needed about women's experiences in a wider range of contexts. Currently, most knowledge has been derived from professional Caucasian women in the Global North and less is known about women in non-urban settings, in precarious work, and in the informal economy, especially outside of Europe/North America. There is a need to better understand and cater to the experience of women in blue-collar occupations, as well as women of different ethnicities or who are gender-diverse. Further consideration of non-cisgender and trans women's experience would also ensure that practice and guidance are inclusive.
      Building the evidence base with more diverse samples and intervention studies represent two ways to generate actionable steps that organisations can take to make their working environments more supportive to a greater range of midlife women. We also need to be clear about what evidence is most likely to aid governmental policy and businesses of all sizes to proactively and productively support menopause. For example, intervention studies [
      • Hardy C.
      • Griffiths A.
      • Norton S.
      • Hunter M.S.
      Self-help cognitive behavior therapy for working women with problematic hot flushes and night sweats ([email protected] Work): a multicenter randomized controlled trial.
      ,
      • Hardy C.
      • Griffiths A.
      • Hunter M.S.
      Development and evaluation of online menopause awareness training for line managers in UK organizations.
      ] may provide valuable evidence in a form that can on-board senior executives and ensure that resources are provided, and change is instigated and championed from the top.
      The EMAS statement is key to this future-oriented work. Let us together build evidence, change workplaces and support women through menopause at work.

      Contributors

      All authors contributed to the preparation of this editorial.

      Conflict of interest

      The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

      Funding

      No funding was received for the preparation of this editorial.

      Provenance and peer review

      This editorial was commissioned and was not externally peer reviewed.

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