Menopause in the workplace
How did you become interested, and invested, in the impact of the menopause on women?
A few years ago, I was a woman in her early 30s, with a career entirely in healthcare and I knew absolutely nothing about the menopause. It was only when Peppy clients started talking about it that I realised with a shock that I was not informed or prepared in any way.
It is most likely to affect me and my friends at a time of peak career potential and while we are raising young children or caring for other family members.
It is not talked about at all, although all women will go through it at some point, and some will really struggle. We don’t even know the full extent of the impact on individuals, organisations or the economy. That’s simply ridiculous.
How does the menopause affect women in the workplace? What are the most common misconceptions?
Menopause affects different women differently, but we know that about 25% of women will have minimal symptoms, and 25% of women will have symptoms severe enough that they have to make lifestyle modifications. This could include changing work patterns, changes in career or stopping work altogether, although we don’t yet have the data on this. The remaining 50% are somewhere in between.
There are a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms. The physical ones are generally more well-known – hot flushes, joint aches, fatigue, night sweats – but sometimes the psychological symptoms can be a lot more distressing and problematic. They can include anxiety, ‘brain fog’ or problems with word recall. For client facing roles, these can cause a real dent in confidence.
One of the most common misconceptions is that these are symptoms of ‘age’ and have to be lived with. The reality is that there are ways (medical, psychological, lifestyle) of managing these symptoms, they don’t affect all women equally and they are often transient.
Why do you think there is still such a taboo associated with the menopause?
Women’s health, whether that’s related to menstruation, fertility or other gynaecological issues, has always suffered from ‘taboo’ status, even amongst women.
Some episodes, like pregnancy, have positive connotations about youth and growth. Menopause has historically been associated with old age and all the negative things that come with it. Loss of fertility has historically been linked to loss of ‘usefulness’ or attractiveness. This makes the taboo harder to break.
The average age of menopause is 51. The reality was that a century ago most women were towards the end of their life at that stage. Today’s reality is very different. A 51-year-old woman in the UK has a one in six chance of living to 100. Half of her life may well be ahead of her, including a substantial portion of her working life.
Following the infamous BT case on discrimination around the menopause, do you think the conversation has started to change at all?
Yes, absolutely. It’s raised the awareness of menopause amongst the HR community. The effect has been even more pronounced because it has coincided with the swell in grassroots awareness, driven by mass media, social media and celebrities/influencers who are experiencing the menopause themselves.
Employees are becoming more vocal about the challenges they face and HR teams are recognising that they need to be equipped to support their employees.
Do you think there is a correlation between the lack of female leadership in the legal profession, and many industries, and lack of support for the menopause?
Simply, yes. People cannot get behind an issue if they do not know it exists or they do not understand it.
I have heard several men say that their partner is experiencing the menopause, they want to support her, but she’s not willing to discuss it with them. Unless there are women who either ‘get it’ through personal or professional experience, and are willing to raise the issue, we cannot expect even the most empathetic male leaders to ‘intuitively’ know how big an issue this can be.
The more senior women there are in a profession or an organisation, the more likely that is to happen. We are definitely seeing other sectors, like the media, where the mandate is coming from senior female bosses and then the issue is picked up by their competitors.
How can HR or diversity and inclusion professionals support their employees with the menopause?
We believe there are three things that organisations can do to support their employees with the menopause:
1. Create an open environment
Educational events and materials, women’s networks or menopause networks are excellent ways to do this, and the discussion needs to be inclusive of all. Line manager training can equip them to have a conversation around menopause with direct reports.
2. Policies and procedures
Menopause often comes under the remit of existing policies, but some organisations choose to have a specific menopause policy to help employees, managers and the HR function.
Simple procedural things can make a big difference. We heard once that it took multiple levels of approval at one organisation to get a fan at your desk. They were able to reduce that to a simple step process, making it much less onerous on employees.
3. Personal support
Every woman’s experience of the menopause is different because of her medical history, family circumstances and work circumstances. This is where Peppy comes in. We provide individual expert-led support, personal to your journey
How did you identify the need for an organisation like Peppy Health? What support do you offer?
We realised that there was a huge gap in the provision of care at these points of life when people are not necessarily ‘ill’, but their wellbeing is impacted. This can have a profound impact on their home life and their work life.
We work with employers to provide health support packages to their employees. The backbone of the support consists of access to text-based chat support with a practitioner. For menopause, these are registered nurses with professionally recognised training and relevant clinical experience. For topics that need deeper discussion, we’ll suggest a phone consultation.
The chat and phone consultations can be used to answer any questions you might have, provide best-practice information about menopause, direct you to other resources that are out there, provide reassurance and overall, support you to make informed choices about your health.
We do not provide prescriptions or diagnoses. Medical care is still under your regular healthcare provider, usually a GP.
Why did you choose the services Peppy Health offers? Did you notice that clinical guidance and support was lacking?
The UK is actually the thought leader when it comes to menopause. We have wonderful clinicians like Kathy Abernethy, our Director of Menopause services and previously the chair of the British Menopause Society. She and her colleagues have been working for decades to build up the clinical knowledge, expertise and training that is considered the world gold standard.
The NICE guidelines for menopause were published in 2017 and were the first of their kind in the world.
What has been lacking for the majority of women is the access to trained professionals – finding them and getting the time with them. That’s what we’re solving at Peppy. How do you get access to the information and advice you need to help you make the best choice for you? And how do you do that in a way that is convenient for a busy working person?
There is also a broader problem that our healthcare system is not set up to provide some of the emotional support, coaching and advice on lifestyle management that is needed.
What do you hope to achieve with Peppy Health?
We want to ensure that people going through big life transitions, like the menopause, are supported so that they can make the best decisions about managing their health at these vulnerable times.
We want to improve their quality of life, both at home and at work. This has not only short-term impact, but also longer-term impact on their physical, mental and financial wellbeing.
Mridula Pore is CEO and co-founder of Peppy. Her passion is making healthcare more affordable and accessible. Peppy provides a new type of employee benefit – health support to people going through the big life transitions, like becoming a new parent, going through the menopause or fertility treatment and offers convenient, expert led support over an extended period of time that improves quality of life, confidence and the ability to perform at work.
Although she has spent her career in healthcare, Mridula is an engineer by training, studying first at Cambridge, before spending several years at MIT on a highly selective joint PhD/MBA programme. She was previously a senior engagement manager at McKinsey and a business unit head at Sandoz (the generic pharmaceutical division of Novartis).