The Menopause

The menopause is slowly being recognised as a workplace related health priority – and not the taboo subject it was previously.

Women make up nearly half of the UK workforce and more women than ever are working until later in life. Over the last four years the number of working women over the age of 50 has also increased; a trend that is set to continue as the retirement age increases.

However, many of these women may be struggling to manage the psychological and physiological changes their bodies are going through due to the menopause.

A quarter of menopausal women will experience debilitating symptoms – from hot flushes and night sweats to increased anxiety – for some it forces them out of the workplace completely.

It’s not really a surprise that menopause isn’t openly talked about in the workplace; symptoms are personal and sometimes embarrassing. A large number of women find their symptoms negatively affect their job performance and many lose their confidence.

Businesses should be able to recognise when support is needed and facilitate open conversations with employees about what they’re experiencing. Menopause shouldn’t be a taboo, and everyone should feel confident to have a conversation with their line manager, especially when they need guidance and advice.

Every manager should know what the menopause is, when it happens and how it can affect people.

What is menopause?

It’s a natural stage of life when a woman’s oestrogen levels decline and she stops having periods. As menopausal symptoms are typically experienced for several years, it is best described as a ‘transition’ rather than a one-off event.

When does it happen?

The menopause typically happens between age 45 and 55, but for some women can be later. The ‘perimenopause’ is the phase leading up to the menopause, when a woman’s hormone balance starts to change.

Open cultures need to be created where women feel comfortable to say they’re struggling with symptoms.

Policies also need to be updated to reflect menopause – it needs to be included in sickness and flexible working policies to take into account symptoms such as night sweats and insomnia.

Health and safety issues for menopausal women in the workplace include:

  • Toilet access and breaks – heavy or unpredictable periods makes easy access to sanitary facilities even more important for women.
  • Workstation design – working in a restricted position for a long period may cause health problems.
  • Workplace temperature – a woman’s body temperature may rise by up to 5 degrees during a hot flush.
  • Ventilation – additional ventilation may be required.
  • Lack of access to natural light may affect the body’s ability to absorb calcium and can also affect the mood.
  • Inflexible hours of work and breaks – may add to stress and physical discomfort at work.

Developing a menopause policy

To help staff feel supported it’s a good idea to have a policy specifically for the menopause. This should be shared across the whole organisation, be regularly reviewed and be the basis for any training the organisation gives to managers.

Having a menopause policy can help everyone in the organisation understand:

  • what the menopause is and how it can affect people
  • how it affects everyone differently
  • what support is available to staff affected by it.

The menopause policy could also:

  • explain what training is provided to managers, supervisors and team leaders
  • explain who the organisation’s point of contact is for queries related to the menopause
  • show how the organisation is open and trained to talk and listen sensitively about the effects of the menopause
  • include the employer’s commitment to support its diverse workforce and to prevent discrimination.

Even if there is a policy, employers should make some allowances when supporting staff through the menopause because everyone’s experience will be different.

You should also review your current health, safety and wellbeing policies to make sure they cover any links with the menopause. This could include reviewing:

  • diversity and inclusion policies, for example on sex, race, disability and gender reassignment
  • flexible working policies
  • absence management policies
  • sickness reporting policies.

Menopause and the law

Employers should make sure they have steps, procedures and support in place to help staff affected by the menopause.

Having regular conversations with staff and listening to their concerns might help resolve issues early on before any potential legal action is taken.

Employers should make sure they know how the menopause relates to the law, including the:

  • Equality Act 2010, which protects workers against discrimination
  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which says an employer must, where reasonably practical, ensure everyone’s health, safety and welfare at work.

The menopause is not a specific protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. But if an employee or worker is put at a disadvantage and treated less favourably because of their menopause symptoms, this could be discrimination if related to a protected characteristic, for example:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • sex.

To conclude, raising awareness of the menopause generally – not just amongst women – is crucial to reducing stigma. By developing a broader understanding of the impact it can have, employers can harness all of the talents of employees approaching later life. 

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