Menopause is a transformative experience that can bring about physical and emotional changes for those going through it; from thinning hair and brain fog to anxiety and migraines. The transition, which lasts, on average, between four and seven years, can have a significant impact, challenging an individual’s ability to enjoy daily life, maintain relationships and perform optimally at work. While there is currently no legal requirement in England and Wales for employers to have menopause-specific policies or practices in place, increasing awareness and introducing support is certainly best practice from a people management perspective.
A good starting point is education and awareness raising. Derived from the Greek words for ‘month’ and ‘to stop’, ‘menopause’ simply means ‘a monthly pause’, namely the stopping of monthly cycles or the end of menstruation. It’s preceded by peri-menopause, when periods become less frequent and followed by post-menopause, when menstruation stops completely.
Who does it affect? While menopause obviously affects women, usually in midlife (generally between 45 and 55), it can also affect trans men and much younger individuals where they experience early and premature menopause. While often it is referred to as a ‘natural’ occurrence, for some it can happen as a result of surgery or certain types of drugs. It should also be kept in mind that it doesn’t just impact those going through it, but also their wider support network, including family, friends and colleagues.
As to impact, symptoms vary widely. Common symptoms include hot flushes, mood swings and joint pain, but there are thought to be as many as 40 potential symptoms which can change over time, making them difficult to manage and often leading to misdiagnosis and misunderstanding. Thankfully, however, once diagnosed, there are steps an individual can take to overcome menopause-related symptoms, from medical treatment to lifestyle adjustments.
What steps can employers take?
Raising Awareness – Workshops can help employees understand menopause better. Not only will this increase understanding amongst the workforce, it can also help normalise the topic, removing stigma and taboo and fostering greater empathy amongst colleagues.
Flexible working arrangements – Fatigue and sleep disturbances are common symptoms of menopause, so providing flexibility around start and finish times, working hours and remote working, can enable employees to manage their symptoms more effectively, without compromising productivity. This could also apply to family members who are affected by menopause because they may be getting less sleep than normal.
Adjustments – Practical adjustments can help keep staff comfortable and happy at work. Consider options for individualised temperature-controls (think fans or personal air con units), reviewing uniform and dress codes and providing access to technology to assist with memory difficulties and reduced concentration.
Employee Assistance Programs – Employee Assistance Programs are a valuable resource where menopause is concerned, providing access to confidential counselling and other useful support services. Wellness programs focusing on nutrition, exercise and stress management can also be of benefit to the entire workforce.
Training for managers – Having been a taboo subject for so long, many managers don’t understand what menopause is, or the severity of its symptoms and certainly wouldn’t connect issues at work with something so personal and private. Training managers to understand menopause and be sensitive to the needs of employees experiencing it can help join the dots.
Implementing a menopause policy – A menopause policy can spell out your organisational commitment to supporting menopausal employees. It should be communicated to all employees alongside manager training to ensure it’s implemented, rather than ignored.
It’s time to act now – While the Government recently rejected calls from the Women and Equalities Committee to make menopause a standalone protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, that doesn’t mean employees who are mistreated by their employer in connection with menopause can’t bring Employment Tribunal claims.
Depending on the circumstances, age, sex and disability discrimination claims could be brought against an employer and individuals too, as well as an unfair dismissal claim. We know claims are increasing. In 2021, Employment Tribunal claims related to menopause increased by 44%, compared to 2020. So, not only would implementing some of the strategies set out above be best practice, it could also provide valuable legal protection.
In addition, with an estimated 13 million people in the UK currently experiencing menopausal transition (ONS), from a purely numbers-oriented perspective, it’s vital employers consider strategies they can introduce to make their workplaces more menopause-friendly. With 1 in 10 women saying they leave the workplace due to symptoms, it’s key to not be one of those employers losing valuable staff.
There’s no better time than now, given October is Menopause Awareness Month. So, why not set aside some time this month to consider steps you can take to raise awareness, provide practical support and tackle training, not just to support those going through menopause, but to create a more supportive and inclusive workplace that everyone can thrive in.