The menopause used to be a totally taboo subject, but thankfully with growing awareness it is now more openly discussed in society and the workplace. It’s easy to think that it’s not something anyone who isn’t a woman of a certain age should be concerned about, but around 25% of your female staff could be suffering from symptoms, which can impact their productivity, wellbeing, and ultimately your staff retention rate and bottom line. That is clearly an issue that all employers should be addressing.
- Around 50% of the working population are women. Around 25% of those of working age are between the ages of 45 and 55, that’s 25% of the female workforce*.
- 63% of menopausal women say their working life has been negatively affected by their symptoms**.
- More than a million women in the UK could leave their jobs in 2022 because their employers are failing to support them as they go through the menopause. The House of Commons' women and equalities committee is looking at reforming legislation to protect those experiencing menopause symptoms.
- There has been around a 20% increase in the number of people working past ‘working age’. If you lose women because they are struggling with the menopause, then you could be losing valuable experienced staff*.
- There have been countless studies which show that older workers are more loyal and bring with them not only job experience but also more critical thinking and general knowledge. While employee succession is highly important, without older staff to pass on their experience and be role models to younger recruits, your business could suffer.
What is the Menopause and how does it impact my staff?
The menopause is when women stop having periods and are unable to have children. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 but happens in stages over time. Women experience different symptoms, some worse than others. It’s important that you as an employer, are aware of these, and that your other staff understand the issues. These can include:
- Hot flushes
- Mood changes
- Sleep disturbance
- Weight gain
- Difficulty remembering things and concentrating
- Lack of self-confidence
- Increased stress levels
Is support at work really needed?
A survey by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation***, found that few women were prepared for the onset of menopause and its impact on work. Over half hadn’t discussed their symptoms with their manager, and the majority felt they needed more advice and support. In addition, a Worksmart survey found that 30% of those surveyed take time off for menopausal symptoms, but less than 25% told their manager why. This makes it difficult to make adjustments to support workers and is why open and transparent discussions in the workplace around the menopause will help.
Failure to address this issue could raise an employer’s risk levels in terms of the Sex, disability and age discrimination laws as some, or all symptoms experiences could potentially fall within the ‘disability’ definition. In Davies v Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service ET/4104575/2017e the claimant succeeded in a claim for discrimination arising from disability when her employer dismissed her for misconduct. The tribunal found that her conduct had been affected by her menopausal symptoms, which caused confusion and forgetfulness.
Do I need to change workplace policies?
Having a Menopause policy, or including it in your other policies such as health and safety, and discrimination, can provide a useful framework and point of reference; however it’s not enough to just state your policy. A more holistic approach with practical support, increased awareness, and a supportive and inclusive working environment is what’s needed.
How best should employers support staff and encourage them to discuss issues?
Make it visible. It should be talked about in the workplace in a variety of ways. You could hold informative talks, ‘menopause cafés, send out information via email, and put posters and flyers out to raise visibility.
How best should employers provide discreet / in confidence ways for staff to discuss the menopause?
It might be difficult for a member of staff to discuss her menopause issues with a male boss, she may feel embarrassed. You can appoint a menopause support champion within your workplace, who can be the point of contact for women experiencing issues, and they can then help them address these with their managers. This person could have training, or simply be another woman who has gone through the menopause and is willing to listen to and support others. There are also digital platforms which can be used for supporting staff, such as Peppy which can connect your staff to menopause experts.
What measures can be introduced to reduce health impact/absence?
- Desk fans
- Adjusting dress code requirements
- Adjust rest breaks/working times/place of work
- Moving a desk to a window that opens
- Flexibility in dealing with related absence – time off to attend medical appts. / different start and finish times / WFH when practical
- Allow women to report sickness absence to female managers (if possible)
- Changing some of the worker’s duties to a more suitable role
- JACS recommends recording menopause sickness/ absence as an ongoing health issue rather than a series of individual shorter-term absences
- Risk assessments (The H&S at Work Act 1974) – workplace temperature and ventilation / uniform ventilation / rest area / accessibility to washroom facilities and cold drinking water
What about other staff, what can an employer do to encourage them to be supportive?
Employers should ensure managers are equipped and trained to listen and support individuals through menopause. This should include an awareness of symptoms and how this could affect their work productivity etc. and they should be encouraging employees to speak up.
Employers can facilitate this through training, information resources, guidance and regular communications.
This year HR Now signed up to the Menopause Friendly Workplaces pledge. It’s a great place for employers to start their journey in making their organisations more inclusive, and their teams more productive. You can find out more information at the Diversity Network.
Jersey Advisory and Conciliation Service has a Menopause booklet
*Statistics from the 2011 Jersey census.
**Taken from a survey by Forth: https://www.forthwithlife.co.uk/blog/menopause-in-the-workplace/