Santander UK broke new ground when it introduced support for people with menopause in 2019. In doing so, it became one of the first large employers in the country to offer this type of workplace help for its female staff.
The idea first came from the bank’s senior HR manager Theresa Winters who, while enjoying a relaxing poolside holiday in Corfu, read a post on LinkedIn about how the menopause can affect women. It struck a chord with Winters, who was 51 at the time – the average age that women start to experience the menopause. So she decided to write a social media post on the subject.
This was then read by Winters’ manager, who saw it as an opportunity to explore what more the organisation could be doing to help people in her situation. “It’s become a bit of a personal passion, as well as the passion of the organisation,” Winters says.
Although people experience the menopause differently, symptoms can include feelings of anxiety, changes in mood, hot flushes and headaches. The range of responses can also mean that it often goes misdiagnosed. This makes it important that employers provide a range of different mechanisms and avenues for people to access the support they need, when they need it, Winters says.
After conducting internal research, Winters found that 25% of Santander’s female staff were of menopausal age and 15% of the absences recorded by people in this bracket were due to menopause symptoms. “We have 3,000 colleagues within the spectrum of menopausal age,” Winters explains. “That’s an awful lot of people that we can create a better experience within the workplace for and help them to thrive.”
The first task was to improve awareness of the issue and where people could go to seek help. Although the company did have guidance on its intranet, it was not well communicated. A survey was also sent out to staff to discover what types of support employees and managers needed.
Winters acknowledges that there can be challenges in educating people as some shy away from discussing health issues in the workplace. But she notes it isn’t only men who can overlook the effects of menopause. She adds: “One in four women won’t suffer any symptoms, so you can get a challenge from women and men who don’t understand the impacts. But that is due to a lack of understanding, which can be changed by opening up an environment for people to talk about it.”
To help break down any stigmas, senior leaders were encouraged to champion the programme and specialist training was provided for managers. “We wanted to create a psychologically safe workplace where people can talk about menopause openly, speak up and get the support they need,” she adds. Santander UK’s CEO Mike Regnier has also emphasised the company’s commitment to being a menopause-friendly organisation. Winters says that endorsement from senior leaders helps to send a “powerful message”.
Other important changes within the workplace have been the introduction of a team of 25 advocates, who help to raise awareness across the business. “One of the biggest challenges we face as a big organisation is ensuring people know the extent of the support we provide. So it’s helpful if you’ve got a group of people that can help to spread that word,” Winters adds. Menopause is also now a recognised reason for absence reason, which she claims makes people feel more comfortable about taking time off work if they need to.
The business has also partnered with Peppy, an employee wellness app, that offers specialist support for people going through the menopause. Winters claims that many women are not getting the clinical support they need. “As a responsible employer, it’s up to us to fill that gap,” she explains. Some 750 Santander employees currently use Peppy’s mobile services.
Many businesses are overlooking menopause support
Although four years have passed since Santander introduced its menopause support, there are still very few employers that offer similar benefits. Analysis of 25.9 million job ads listed on jobs site Adzuna found that only 312 listed menopause support as a perk in 2023. It was not mentioned by any employer in job ads in the prior three years. Government ministers also blocked proposals to make menopause a “protected characteristic” under Equality Act, earlier this year, for fears it would discriminate against men.
This comes despite research showing that one in 10 women who work during the menopause end up leaving their job due to their symptoms, according to a Fawcett Society report. Businesses that can support their female employees through this life stage stand a better chance of retaining these staff.
Winters says: “When you consider the statistics, there is a compelling business case for employers to support those going through menopause and raise awareness across the whole population.”
The changes Santander UK has made has also helped to improve its employer branding. “We talk about the work we do a lot externally,” Winters says. “If we show that we’re an employer that really supports women’s health and menopause, that can be a real point of attraction for a lot of people looking for their new employer.”
Her main advice to other businesses is to “be clear” about the reasons you’re introducing menopause support in the workplace and “make sure that’s consistent throughout your communications as you go forward”.
Understanding your employee population and supporting data can help to build a business case too. Winters explored levels of attrition and absence levels of women within that age range. “Having the key statistics is really helpful to get the business case going and to illustrate why it’s important to be supporting menopause in the workplace,” she adds.
And there is a lot that can be done without money. Winters explains: “Whatever size of organisation you are, you can easily start by just raising awareness of the symptoms and pointing to some of the existing sites and online resources.” For example, in May, the British Standards Institute published new guidance for employers to help businesses support employees experiencing menopause or menstruation.
Lastly, organisations should also consider that menopause is an issue that will impact everyone, not just women. For this reason, Santander UK’s virtual online support group, called Pause for Support, is attended by men and women and is designed to be a safe space for people to talk about their experiences of the menopause.
“We know menopause will affect half the population but everybody knows or works with someone who will experience it too,” Winters adds. “Half our managers are male, so it needs to be a topic that everyone learns about in the workplace. It has a massively widespread impact.”
For this reason alone, Winters believes menopause support should be a benefit that more businesses should start offering.
This article is part of our Going Against the Grain series, which tells the stories of companies bold enough to break business norms and try out new ideas. To explore the rest of the series, head here.