Why we need to talk more about menopause in the workplace

The menopause is a natural part of aging that will happen to every female at some point during their life. It can cause different physical and emotional symptoms depending on the individual and can last for varying lengths of time – years in some cases.

While some women may breeze through the menopause with little or no symptoms, others experience symptoms that have a massive impact on their everyday life. Generally, these women suffer in silence, coping with their symptoms alone.

Menopause is still somewhat of a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace. And, because it is such a deeply personal issue, women can be reluctant to inform their manager if it is affecting their ability to do their job.

Whilst pregnant women are – quite rightly – looked after by employers and colleagues with regular risk assessments, time off for medical appointments, adjustments made to work stations etc, little is done to help menopausal women to cope at work, even though the symptoms and changes going on inside the body can be quite similar. These include brain fog, fatigue, sleep issues, headaches, problems with memory or recall and trouble controlling body temperature.

The UK workforce is made up of more women than ever, according to figures released by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development. The largest increase in employment is in the age group of women 50 and over.

If we know this, shouldn’t we as business owners and employers be doing more and be putting things in place to manage menopause in the workplace more effectively?

This is why I attended a CIPD Menopause in the Workplace event as part of my own professional development (CPD) earlier this year. I believe that this issue is on the cusp of becoming even bigger. Employers need to be aware and, if they can, implement small changes now that will make a big difference to the lives of working menopausal women.

The Government is also urging businesses to create menopause-friendly workplaces to help female employees going through the menopause. This is after a government-funded report found that UK organisations could do more to support to workers undergoing the menopause.

In March, the CIPD published research that showed that three out of five (59%) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work.

What can employers do?

Having menopause-friendly employer statements and the culture to underpin this in place is a great place to start. Create a Menopause in the Workplace policy for employees and their managers too. These can serve as an attractive recruitment and retention tool and great piece of PR for the company too!

Open up the metaphorical doors for discussion so women know they can talk openly about how they are feeling without fear of how it may look will create confidence. Show that you are considering the situation on an individual basis, looking at any specific adjustments you can offer to make things better in the workplace if symptoms are causing the individual difficulties. ALWAYS ensure you maintain confidentiality so the trust isn’t broken and follow up. Not only does it show the person that they matter, but it allows you to evaluate the effectiveness of any adjustments you have agreed to put in place.

Consider if you are the best person to support the individual. If not, put them in touch with another senior member of staff, HR or an Occupational Health provider if this is feasible. As the menopause is such a personal and sensitive matter that can only be supported effectively where the organisation and its managers have knowledge of this, it’s essential that managers are supported by training on how to hold personal discussions.  They need to be able to respond in a sensitive and supportive manner whilst also considering and maintaining the business needs.

Practical support in the workplace environment

Types of supportive measures that could be considered could include:

  • Reduce, where possible, exposure to noise to alleviate symptoms of headaches, fatigue or anxiety.
  • Allow access to desk fans, provide good ventilation within the workplace and allow access to temperature controls for air conditioning and/or heating systems.
  • Keep clean and well-equipped toilet facilities.
  • Provide cold drinking water.
  • Create a quiet rest area or allow breaks if needed.
  • Consider any flexible working arrangements, even if this is just on a temporary basis or at certain points during the working month or day.

The CIPD has published free guidance on managing the menopause at work to help break the silence surrounding the topic. It emphasises that even small changes can make a big difference to how women manage their symptoms and thrive in their jobs. For more information and more specific help on making your workplace more menopause-friendly, give me a call on 07540 543655 or email mary@yourpeoplematter.com.