Employers’ blind spot on menopause is costing women’s careers

Germaine Fryer

Women at the peak of their careers are leaving their jobs in alarming numbers because of a lack of employer support during their menopause, it has been claimed.

As people across the world mark World Menopause Day this week, shocking figures reveal the huge cost to the economy of experienced women having to quit their jobs prematurely. Too many feel they simply have no choice because there is no help available, following new research.

Germaine Fryer, head of engagement and marketing at Liverpool social enterprise, The Women’s Organisation, says this demonstrates why it is imperative employers put in place effective policies and mechanisms to support women through what is a difficult and often debilitating period in their lives.

She said: “What is frustrating about this is how simple it is to fix. It isn’t like the menopause is a new concept. It has always been part of the natural cycle of women’s lives. It isn’t a mystery.

“We say to employers, learn about it, put a policy in place, support your staff. In return you’ll keep individuals who are critical to your business rather than losing them altogether.”

Around four million women in the UK workforce are currently in the peak menopause age, as defined by the NHS (aged 45 to 55). This coincides with the period when many women are at the apex of their careers.

They are often in senior roles and their amassed experience and institutional knowledge is irreplaceable to their employer. They are key drivers of growth and productivity.

A survey of working age women in the UK conducted by Censuswide and commissioned by Bupa Health Clinics indicated that as many as 900,000 people may have left their jobs due to the menopause.

The report says: “Women who have taken long term absence from work because of menopause, take an average of 32 weeks to accommodate their symptoms which range from depression, anxiety, hot flashes, and mood swings.”

Earlier in 2022, University College London academics Alice Sullivan and Alex Bryson looked to dig deeper into the topic. They claim their study was the first to estimate the effects of early menopause and menopause symptoms on women’s employment and full time employment rates.

They found early onset of menopause (before age 45) reduces months spent in employment by nine percentage points once women enter their 50s, compared with women who do not experience early menopause.

This is equivalent to the loss of around four months’ employment among women in their early 50s. However, early menopause is not associated with a difference in full time employment rates.

Their report said: “The number of menopause symptoms women face as they approach age 50 is associated with lower employment rates. Each additional symptom lowers employment rates and full time employment rates by around half a percentage point.”

It went on: “Our calculations suggest that a conservative estimate of the cost of early menopause for a woman is £20,000, while the cost of suffering an average level of menopause symptoms is £10,000. These are ballpark base-line estimates.

“Having identified the size and extent of the problem, government and employers should consider steps that could be taken to ameliorate the problems women face in their working lives due to the menopause.”

Germaine Fryer added: “It beggars belief that capable and highly-skilled women are finding themselves sidelined and, in many cases, being forced to leave their jobs because of a complete lack of understanding.

“One of the positives to come out of the pandemic has been a greater awareness among employers on the importance of wellbeing and mental health among their staff – and the impact this has on productivity and the bottom line. Yet menopause is still an area where ignorance reigns.

“We urge policy change that means that women’s careers are no longer hampered by the effects of menopause, and which would mean that women can continue to make their important combined contribution to the UK economy for longer.”

The Women’s Organisation, which also operates in Manchester, is the UK’s largest developer and deliverer of employment and enterprise training for women, providing a range of services focused on helping women to become economically active and empowered.

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