Blog: It's time we talked about the menopause at work

National Officer Isslia Roberts explains why HCSA has issued a call for evidence from doctors to press for a sea change in attitudes towards the menopause at work.

Menopause, menopausal, perimenopause. You may not have experienced them directly, or may even be unsure what they all entail, but it is likely you know someone who has or will experience menopause and/or menopausal symptoms at some point in their lives.

Despite this, historical taboos and complacency surrounding the menopause have left the government and employers lagging behind when it comes to recognising the consequences for many women’s careers and their relationship with work.

Research in 2019 conducted by BUPA and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that three in five menopausal women, most often aged between 45 and 55, were negatively affected at work, reporting symptoms such as increased stress, difficulty concentrating and anxiety.

BUPA estimated that over the years as many as 900,000 women in the UK have been forced out of work altogether.

This means that many women encounter the menopause while “at the peak of their experience”. Those in the 45-55 age group are likely to be eligible for senior management roles, and so their exit can lessen diversity at executive levels. It can also contribute to the gender pay gap and feed into pensions disparity.

With growing numbers of women entering medicine, and the need to retain every doctor we can, there is no room for employer or government complacency.

The track record to date is not encouraging. Under the Equality Act 2010, menopause discrimination is largely covered under three protected characteristics: age, sex and disability discrimination. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides for safe working, which extends to working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms.

There have been several calls made for further legislation to require employers to put in place a workplace menopause policy to protect people going through the menopause against discrimination at work.

In its absence, lack of clear policy, workplace support or understanding from managers can have far-reaching consequences and compound the impact on individuals. For the employee, it can affect their health, work or career, confidence, productivity, promotion prospects and general wellbeing. For the employer, it can result in sickness absence, reduced productivity, loss of talented employees, costly grievances and Tribunal action.

Menopause in the workplace has garnered more attention in recent years as the focus of reports and even Employment Tribunal claims. Professor Jo Brewis, co-author of the Government Report on Menopause, noted that “menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic”.

Yet, despite this growing awareness, HCSA members continue to report negative experiences related to menopause at work. Action to bring about meaningful legislation is desperately required. As the government opens a new consultation on the issue, HCSA’s goal, on behalf of our members and the thousands of other women doctors who will soon comprise a majority of the profession, is to bring about positive change and improved workplace practices which better support those affected.

That is why HCSA is now seeking views on the extent of discrimination faced by menopausal doctors at work. The call for evidence is an opportunity to showcase your experiences - both positive and negative - and help build the case, and establish best practice, for a meaningful shift in policy.

We are keen to hear from any doctors with experience, expertise or ideas on how employers should be treating or can better help support people going through the menopause in the workplace.

We know that there are disparities and a lack of a clear implemented policy, particularly in England.

We will consider this evidence with the aim and intention of publishing a final report to engage with policy-makers and support a paradigm shift in how employers and our NHS approach menopause.

With your contribution and support, we can enable the government to understand the true scale of how menopause affects doctors. The deadline for submissions is Friday 27th August, and all information provided will remain confidential and be anonymised in any report.

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