How Employers Can Support Menopause in the Workplace

Monday, January 24, 2022

One in four women consider leaving their job because of menopause symptoms. These statistics are not something that employers can ignore.

Article 6 Minutes
How Employers Can Support Menopause in the Workplace

Menopause support in the workplace is becoming an increasingly important topic for employers. If we take a look at some figures, it’s plain to see why this issue deserves our urgent attention. After all, women make up nearly half of the USA’s workforce, and women aged 50+ are the fastest growing workforce demographic, totalling in the region of 4 million.

According to recent government data, nearly 80% of menopausal women are in work, and about three quarters of them are likely to experience menopausal symptoms that can affect their physical, mental and emotional health. One industry source reports that 30% have taken time off work for menopause-related reasons and one in four women consider leaving their job because of menopause symptoms. These statistics are not something that employers can ignore.

What health support are businesses offering?

Businesses have a statutory duty of care to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their staff. Traditionally, this has revolved around employees’ physical health and accidents at work. As one provider explains: “The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 require you to provide first aid equipment, facilities and people so your employees can be given immediate help if they are injured or taken ill at work.”

By comparison, work-related stress and mental health issues have only recently been recognized as having a potentially significant impact on workplace behavior and performance. That said, official guidance now exists on how best to support mental health in the workplace, and there’s a growing body of work devising useful actionable strategies that can be used.

Menopause has been described as ‘the last taboo’ in the workplace. Largely as a result of increasing media attention over the years and championed by a range of celebrity ambassadors, this important issue is now firmly on the table, with stigmas being addressed and myths being busted in wider society as well as within business contexts. Employers now broadly accept that suffering with adverse menopausal symptoms can put an extra strain on female employees who may require additional support at work.

What is the menopause?

The medical definition of menopause is the point at which a woman stops having periods and can no longer conceive naturally. The average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51 years but hormonal changes can start to occur as early as 40 years old and symptoms can last up to 10 years or more. This is because menopause is caused by a change in hormones over time, which usually takes place between 45-55 years.

Menopause affects women differently. There’s a long list of symptoms including hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, headaches, hair thinning, joint stiffness, weight gain, trouble sleeping, brain fog, anxiety and depression. There may also be highly personal symptoms that can cause further stress and anxiety. Symptoms are likely to start in peri-menopause, the period leading up to menopause when hormonal changes start to happen.

The effects of menopausal symptoms on female employees can vary. Some women seem to sail through the process with nothing more than the odd hot flush, others find their symptoms debilitating, requiring extensive time off work. The stress and anxiety experienced may well have a detrimental effect on confidence and performance at work, especially if the workplace is perceived as an unsympathetic environment. Historically, the vast majority of working women have suffered in silence.

What is the legal position on menopause in the workplace?

Employees experiencing menopausal or peri-menopausal symptoms enjoy legal protection through several legal routes. According to The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers must ensure the physical and mental health of their employees. Crucially, this includes that “workplace practices do not worsen the experience of a menopausal employee,” says one legal expert in the field.

Female employees experiencing menopausal symptoms are also, albeit indirectly, covered under The Equality Act 2010 which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of age, sex, disability or gender reassignment.

While many HR departments may understandably be concerned with the legal risks associated with female employees bringing discrimination claims on the basis of their menopausal experience at work, it would be short-sighted not to look beyond what is required by law. Taking a collaborative and informed approach to support staff through what may well be a difficult phase in their life is bound to yield better results all round.

How can employers help staff going through menopause?

Feeling understood and supported within the workplace is a hugely positive factor to help women through the menopause process. Employers shouldn’t underestimate the fact that even a few small, practical adjustments could make a world of difference to those experiencing unpleasant menopausal symptoms.

Here are some positive steps that could be taken:

1.    Start the conversation to break the taboo

Breaking the silence and the stigma attached to menopause must be the first step. Informational posters, focus groups and wellbeing sessions could be used to raise awareness of the issue and educate staff about what menopause means and how different women experience it at work. Normalizing the conversation, providing accurate information, engaging men and women and securing senior level support are all key elements of success.

2.    Develop a framework and provide resources

Consider drawing up an organizational framework within which menopause can be addressed. This could include allocating different people’s responsibilities, steps for developing inclusivity, providing awareness training for managers including nuanced performance indicators and people management approaches, making available resources for further support and information. Here’s a useful Guide to Managing Menopause at Work, produced by the CIPD.

3.    Ensure full leadership engagement

Whether you’re a small business or a large corporation, company culture emanates from the top. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to involve the senior management team in any corporate initiatives regarding menopause support. It may well be that the ‘old guard’ requires additional coaching to help them break down common misunderstandings and menopause-related stigmas and develop a more supportive mindset. In an ideal scenario, menopause support for your female staff should be championed by a member of the leadership team.

4.    Implement small steps and a flexible approach

Every woman will experience menopause symptoms differently. Managers need to be aware of this and prioritize one-to-one conversations with affected team members to find out how best to help. Sensitivity and adaptability are key. From providing desk fans to help with hot flushes to quieter working spaces or more frequent breaks for better concentration, or flexible working practices to deal with stress and overwhelm, support for menopausal employees must be nuanced and personalized.

Chester Avey

Writer

Chester Avey has over 10 years of experience in cybersecurity and business management. Since retiring he enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience through his writing.

 

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