World Menopause Day is on 18 October 2023, and with an increasing number of organisations implementing menopause policies, we thought we’d take a look at how menopause affects the workplace and what small businesses can do to manage this and support their employees.
Across the UK, women over 50 are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace, but many have reduced their hours and passed up promotions. Research by the Fawcett Society shows that up to 10% of women leave their jobs because of menopause symptoms.
Making your workplace a supportive and understanding place for people going through the menopause will help to:
- Increase employee retention
- Improve productivity
- Reduce recruitment costs
- Ensure a more diverse workforce
- Increase happiness and wellbeing
- Minimise menopause-related absence.
Menopause mainly affects women between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can also happen earlier or later, and will affect anyone who has a menstrual cycle including some trans people and people with ‘variations of sex development’.
There are 3 different stages to the menopause:
Each of these stages is distinct and comes with a variety of symptoms, which can vary from mild to severe, and will affect individuals differently. Symptoms can include: menstrual changes, low mood, anxiety, mood changes, reduced self-esteem, poor concentration, hot flushes, difficulty sleeping, palpitations, headaches, migraines, muscle aches, urinary tract infections, weight gain, reduced sex drive, joint pain, and skin irritation.
The above symptoms can obviously lead to increased absence, and whilst the menopause isn’t itself a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, treating an employee less favourably because of menopause symptoms could be discrimination because of age, disability, sex, or gender reassignment.
In the workplace
It’s worth remembering too that menopause can affect working relationships and creating an open, supportive workplace will also require educating all employees on the menopause and its effects. Information on menopause should be included in any organisation’s diversity and inclusion training, and its induction programme. Employers should communicate a positive attitude towards menopause to let their employees know that they are supportive and this should include developing understanding and support among people managers and colleagues.
It’s important to provide managers with training and education to allow them to support employees. They need to have the confidence and knowledge to deal with menopause issues sensitively and supportively, and where necessary signposting employees to other support that is available.
Menopause is no longer taboo within the workplace and whilst it is up to each organisation to decide upon its own approach, most proactive and progressive organisations are introducing menopause policies, or making sure that existing policies (Sickness, Flexible Working, Health and Wellbeing, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion, etc.) specifically include menopause. How your business chooses to deal with it will depend on your work culture or people management structure, but a failure to do anything will leave your organisation at a disadvantage compared to your competitors.
Any menopause policy should include:
- A statement of commitment to support employees, and an explanation of why this is an important workplace issue for everyone;
- Key policy objectives, i.e. an open and inclusive culture where people feel able to discuss menopause issues and to seek support where required;
- An explanation of what the menopause is and what the symptoms are in order to promote understanding amongst all employees of how the menopause can impact the health of those going through it;
- An outline of who is responsible for implementing the specific elements of the policy;
- Actions required to implement the policy, such as training for managers and stress risk assessments;
- Links to external services, which may include occupational health, NHS services, counselling, or external support groups.
There are distinct benefits of having a specific menopause policy:
- It gives clarity to managers and employees and highlights the support available;
- It provides an opportunity to educate employees about menopause, its symptoms and how it can affect individuals in the workplace;
- It provides a structure which can be used to evaluate the success of an organisation’s approach to managing the impact of menopause;
- It can help to normalise menopause, making it easier for employees to be open about their issues and easier for them to seek support.
As mentioned previously, menopause symptoms can lead to increased employee absence. Businesses should manage employees suffering with menopause symptoms in the same way as they would treat any employee with a long-term health condition, and because the effects will vary from person to person each case should be treated on its merits. Whilst menopause itself will not necessarily be classed as a disability, the symptoms can be, and it is good practice to consider reasonable adjustments to help employees to remain in work or to work more effectively.
Adjustments that could be considered include:
- Flexible start and finish times;
- Allowing employees to work from home as required;
- Flexible break times;
- Modified duties (i.e. minimising manual handling);
- Changes to the work environment (access to a fan, or proximity to a window).
It’s worth documenting any changes that you do make (and also any reasons why you are unable to make requested changes). If longer-term or permanent changes are required, the employee may wish to make a flexible working request.
Employers also have a legal obligation to ensure the Health and Safety of their staff, and an important part of this is conducting risk assessments to prevent employees coming to harm. This includes assessing the risks that face employees with menopause symptoms to ensure that working conditions won’t negatively impact those symptoms.
Where menopause symptoms have an impact on employee performance, reasonable adjustments should be considered as part of any performance management process. Performance management should be a positive process, aimed at supporting employees to deliver what is expected of them; ideally by being flexible you will enable employees to improve their productivity and therefore their value to the organisation.
Overall, it’s clear that menopause has been ignored within the workplace historically, yet almost 50% of employees are likely to experience it at some point during their career. Therefore, as well as being the ‘right’ thing to do, it makes commercial sense to manage menopause proactively and positively.
Our capable, experienced consultants are on hand to help you to find the right way for your business to manage menopause in the workplace effectively.
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26th Feb 2015