There has been a lot of media coverage lately about menopause in the workplace, and the consensus has been pretty unequivocal: far too many of the UK’s businesses are failing to provide enough support for their older female employees.
What that translates into is a working environment for women that has systemically failed to recognise that menopause is not a condition that can be dodged – it will affect every woman at some stage of her life.
For a lucky minority, the ‘change’ slides by without much more fanfare than perhaps an occasional hot flush. For the majority, though, the menopause – a biological process that can be glacially slow to pass (around 5 years, on average) – is a miserable cocktail of multiple debilitating symptoms.
The online health resource WebMD estimates there are as many as 34 recognised symptoms of the menopause.
Among the unenviable things with which the majority of women can expect to become acquainted, apart from relentless hot flushes, are insomnia as well as fatigue, loss of sex drive, fierce mood swings, anxiety, depression, lapses in memory, headaches, irregular periods, racing heart, loss of bladder control, aches and pains, and vaginal dryness.
Although there can be few people over the age of 20 who aren’t aware of its existence, it seems that the menopause is an unrecognised concept in many offices. Or, at best, there is little recognition that the menopause has the potential to impact on an employee’s productivity which, in turn, impacts on their employer’s profitability.
There are many possible reasons for this bewildering lack of acknowledgement. One is that many women simply choose to endure the symptoms alone.
Not all women want to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to combat their menopausal symptoms.
Media reports of concerns that conventional HRT is linked to cancer or heart disease have done a good job of making a lot of women think twice about taking the synthetic – or lab-grown – hormone therapy.
And for most of those women, that’s where they believe their options end. Except, conventional HRT isn’t the first and last option beyond putting up with it – and this is where businesses could be doing so much more to help educate and support their female colleagues.
Bioidentical – or body identical – HRT is a low risk alternative to conventional menopause treatment. It uses compounds that exactly replicate the hormones produced naturally by the body, making it the closest thing to a woman’s natural physiology it’s possible to get.
In a spectacular dereliction of their duty to make women aware of all their treatment options (even if they choose not to recommend it), the NHS and successive governments have simply abandoned those women who believe they have legitimate concerns about the standard treatment routinely offered by their GP.
In some more enlightened GP practices, doctors do choose to lay out all the choices available to their menopausal patients, but those clinics are few and far between, though growing in number.
BHRT effectively relieves women of all their symptoms, leaving them much better placed to live life as they did before. That means happier, healthier employees.
So, if business is failing its female employees by being either being unwilling to recognise the menopause as an issue in its workplaces or too ill-informed to understand the issue exists, what can it do to be the bridge between the misery of the menopause with its stark ‘HRT or bust’ reality, and the promised land of health and happiness?
The first step, of course, lies in breaking down the taboo and fear that stops women talking to their colleagues and managers about the menopause and the adverse effect it’s having.
If businesses can conquer that, then ensuring their female employees have access to information about all the options available to them is a good next step.
Beyond that, making access to BHRT a part of its staff benefits package should be a genuine consideration for any business that’s serious about protecting both its employees and its bottom line.
The menopause has spent too long as the punchline of a joke that has long since ceased to be funny for millions of women in the UK. It’s time business took it seriously.