#talkBECTU – breaking the menopause taboo

7 November 2018

From hot flushes and mood swings, to anxiety and extreme fatigue, the symptoms of the menopause can have a profound impact on women, and yet it remains an unspoken truth.

With more women aged over-50 in the workplace than ever before, thousands of people are finding themselves forced to juggle the impact of the menopause with career demands, while employers have failed to keep pace with workers’ needs or recognise their significant successes.

But handled right – with empathy and understanding hand-in-hand with practical support measures – employers could hold the key to not only easing the burden, but also celebrating the positive contribution of female workers both during and after the menopause. 

A special #talkBECTU union week seminar at the BBC’s New Broadcasting House on Monday 5 November saw more than 20 women of all ages come together with the Menopause Exchange to hear more about the menopause and share their experiences. 

Amid a healthy mix of laughter, frustration and shared personal experience, the group smashed the menopause taboo and spoke frankly about how employers could better support them.

One woman, whose successful HRT has improved both her emotional and physical wellbeing during this life cycle, has decided to leave the BBC and embark on a freelance career after not feeling supported.

“There needs to be a more positive focus,” she said. “We focus on the negatives, but having got the right treatment, I feel absolutely fantastic – better than ever. My employer missed an opportunity to celebrate what I can offer, which is why I’ve decided to set up my own business.”

Another participant agreed, adding: “The menopause is not a disease and there can be so many positives, such as the achievement of coming through the other side.”

One woman added: “I feel like I’ve come out of the closet today! I’d really value a social network where we can support each other informally.”

Others explained how simple measures like having easy access to cold water, suitable workplace temperatures and more flexible working can make a huge difference.

BECTU is calling on employers to engage with staff to raise awareness and introduce clear menopause policies setting out their commitments to supporting workers.

BECTU National Officer, Caroline Hemmington, said: “Life doesn’t end with the menopause. It’s unacceptable for female employees to be brushed aside when the reality is that their experience of the menopause can make their contribution to the workplace more valuable than ever.

“It was great to hear women sharing their experiences and we will continue to press on employers the need to respect and support women before, during and after the menopause.”

BECTU’s 10 tips for employers to support workers through the menopause include:

  • Awareness raising, including training for line managers
  • Flexible working 
  • Workload adjustments
  • Changes to sickness policies 
  • Flexible rest breaks 
  • Environmental changes, including temperature and ventilation
  • Cold drinking water 
  • Suitable workplace uniforms 
  • Menopause-specific risk and stress assessments 
  • Performance policy adjustments