What’s the economic cost of the menopause?

We all know that the menopause has a emotional and physical impact on women. But what about the financial cost on businesses? And what should they be doing about it?

The conversation is warming up. It’s capturing media attention. Celebrities and even politicians are endorsing the movement to normalise the conversation. They’re shining a spotlight on the necessity to overtly acknowledge the menopause for the sake of womankind.

But there’s another angle here and that is the economic implications that are hiding in plain sight.

Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace, but worldwide, they’re sliding into perimenopause at an age when they’re at the peak of their careers.

According to the ‘Women in the Workplace 2021’ report by McKinsey, it’s women who are doing more to support their teams and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.

There’s a plethora of research suggesting that companies with a higher percentage of women in senior leadership positions, are more profitable because women bring a different mindset to the business world and their emotional intelligence is far more superior.

What’s the cost of the menopause?

But this isn’t a case for supporting women in business, that’s a non-negotiable. The issue is who is supporting them in doing this critical work? And to what cost if their emotional wellness is being tested, and they themselves feel under valued and isolated?

The statistics around this demonstrate the urgency. A 2021 survey conducted by Circle Health in conjunction with the Victorian Women’s Trust revealed some truths about what’s really going on in the workplace:

  • 83% of women said their work was negatively affected
  • 58% said managing their work was challenging
  • 48% struggled with a drop in confidence
  • 46% felt stressed by having to hide their experience
  • 45% considered retiring or taking a career break

The results go on to highlight the lack of support available for women in the workplace. Maybe this is due to the blissful ignorance of employers or maybe there’s an inherent embarrassment of poking around in a subject related the female reproductive system.

Three in five menopausal women are negatively affected at work

Another survey conducted by BUPA in conjunction with the CIPD found that three in five menopausal women, usually aged between 45 and 55 were ‘negatively affected at work’. And that ‘almost 900,000 women in the UK left their jobs over an undefined period of time because of menopausal symptoms’.

While the number of women representing board positions in FTSE 100 companies has increased there is another dimension we must consider if they’re to remain there. So what impact is menopause having on the talent pipeline?

Aside from the risk posed to the pool of talented and skilled female expertise there’s the wider impact on productivity, morale and diversity which all lead back to the bottom line. It’s estimated that 14 million working days are lost each year due to menopausal related symptoms, and in the last three years, menopausal related tribunal cases have tripled.

It’s not enough just to tick the menopause policy box

The prevalence of menopause policies is increasing but it’s not enough to just tick the menopause policy box, publish it on the intranet and assume it’s covered. It’s not, and it happens.

I worked for a FTSE 100 company for 17 years, and I know there is a policy lurking behind layers of web pages that nobody knows anything about. More importantly, it doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of supporting a woman during this transition.

A menopause policy needs to be all encompassing, appeal to employees of all genders, and it needs to have a richness that really supports both the physical and mental impact on women and the ripple effect on colleagues.

It needs to engage with stakeholders to understand what precisely that specific environment needs. It needs to weave into a programme that’s immersed so deeply in the culture that it creates a sense of normality. It needs to be quantifiable and the impact measurable.

There’s light at the end of the menopause tunnel

But there is light on the horizon, and the world is slowly rising from its menopause slumber.

Standard Chartered Bank has partnered with the Financial Services Skills Commission (FSSC) to better understand the challenges faced by women going through the menopause transition at work, and how this impacts the talent pipeline across the UK’s financial services industry. In addition companies such as HSBC UK, Natwest Group and CMS have all been accredited as menopause friendly employers.

In one sense of the word the ‘change’ is here, and it couldn’t be further away in another. We live in an era of equality, diversity and inclusion and we all have a responsibility to play in cracking this taboo.

Look no further than the mirror. If we as women are not comfortable in saying ‘menopause’ how can we expect our husbands, partners, managers and colleagues to get on board with it. It’s easy for me, I’m immersed in my bubble of menopause. I live and breathe it day in and day out although, I admit, I wasn’t at first. What is clear to me is the more I talk about it, the more it’s accepted as the norm, so we need to lead from the front.

We are leaders, entrepreneurs, board members, and there’s no limit to our talent and capabilities. But the responsibility is twofold. As our bodies change, we have a responsibility to adapt. And while there is no legal requirement to introduce menopause policies, employers have a moral, ethical and financial obligation.

Lesley Tait is a Menopause Coach and an Emotional Wellbeing Coach. Lesley specialises in helping corporate women struggling with menopause symptoms resulting in loss of confidence, self esteem issues and performance issues, because of which life and career goals are getting derailed.

Photo by Christina