How can employers better support employees during the menopause?
- 4 Min Read
A significant proportion of employees in most organisations are going to experience the menopause – and in the 21st century, there’s no room for squeamishness around the subject…
There are around 4.4 million women aged 50 to 64 in work, up from 3.3 million just 10 years ago. For most women, the menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 and lasts between four and eight years. The symptoms are varied but can include hot flushes, an inability to sleep, reduced concentration and depression – all of which can affect performance at work. Jo Stubbs, Head of Product Content Strategy, XpertHR discusses this issue further and provides advice for companies who struggle to support employees who go through this.
Ignoring the issue and the difficulties many women face could amount to a breach of health and safety legislation or result in sex, age or disability discrimination claims under the Equality Act 2010.
This is a serious issue and it is surprising that so few companies are actively supporting women going through the menopause.
A survey of women over the age of 45 published by digital healthcare company Forth With Life highlighted that 90% of respondents said their workplace did not offer any support for women experiencing the menopause. Out of the companies that did, only a tiny percentage had a specific menopause policy in place. The survey also found that almost a quarter of women experiencing menopausal symptoms had called in sick as a result.
As the UK has an ageing workforce, and employee retention and engagement are at the top of many employers’ agenda, failing to recognise the importance of providing support in this area has the potential to alienate a key group of employees who might otherwise remain committed and focused.
The ability to talk openly about the menopause in the workplace is important and there is a clear need for HR to put in place training, information and processes to raise awareness of the menopause across their workforce and highlight the support available – and to document this in a well-publicised policy.
Developing a menopause policy
To help HR better support their employees, XpertHR has produced a ‘model menopause policy’ for organisations to adapt to support individuals in their workforce experiencing the menopause. The model policy wording is accompanied by guidance on relevant legislation and case law. It highlights common symptoms and sets out potential workplace adjustments and internal support measures.
There are lots of practical ways of improving working conditions for menopausal employees, many of which are relatively easy to implement. Possible adjustments include providing fans, being flexible about toilet breaks, making sure that uniform design and materials don’t exacerbate symptoms, and allowing flexible working hours to help combat sleeping difficulties.
Training is important too and having employees attend a training session on the menopause and other health issues can help increase awareness. Managers should attend this session, as well as separate training to enable them to assist employees who are going through the menopause.
Employees should be encouraged to inform their line manager that they are experiencing menopausal symptoms at an early stage to ensure that symptoms are treated as an ongoing health issue, rather than as individual instances of ill health.
Early notification will also help line managers to determine the most appropriate course of action to support employees’ individual needs. Employees who do not wish to discuss the issue with their direct line manager may find it helpful to have an initial discussion with a trusted colleague or another manager instead. They should also be able to raise the issue with HR/occupational health if they need support.
A variety of initiatives such as employee assistance programmes and mental health first-aid programmes can offer support to women going through the menopause, but it’s essential that HR communicates what support is available so people know where to look.
It is a good idea to signpost external support resources, such as Menopause Matters, an independent clinical-led website that provides information about the menopause, menopausal symptoms and treatment options, and the Daisy Network charity, which provides support for women experiencing premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency
There are also external groups that employees could be directed to such as the Menopause Café, which provides information about events where “people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss menopause”.
For further guidance see the XpertHR Model Menopause Policy.