While campaigns targeted at employers to recognise the challenges of women facing infertility at work are slowly gaining momentum, there is another stage in a woman’s life that also significantly impacts her working life – the menopause.
Currently, around one in eight British workers are women over 50 and this is set to increase to one in six by 2022. The menopause usually begins for women in their late forties or early fifties (although it can happen earlier or later) and comes with a wide range of symptoms that can affect a woman’s wellbeing, from the mild to the truly debilitating.
Managing the menopause in the workplace sensitively and effectively is not only important for a person’s physical and psychological health but ensures an organisation retains the skills of these highly experienced members of the workforce.
What are the challenges?
About one-third of women will experience severe menopausal symptoms and these vary widely from person to person. They can range from a lack of energy and concentration, mood swings and difficulty sleeping, too hot flushes, migraines and panic attacks. It’s worth noting that trans-men may go through these too.
Without support there is a risk that their mental health could suffer, they lose confidence in their job and could even hand in their notice.
Are there any legal considerations?
Menopause is a completely natural process and women should not be treated unfairly for simply trying to cope with its symptoms, which they have little control over. However, there is legal consideration for managers too.
The menopause is not specifically protected under the Equality Act. However, if a worker feels they have been treated unfairly, they could bring a claim under sex discrimination and age discrimination rules. The menopause could also potentially be regarded as a disability by an employment tribunal, especially if ‘reasonable adjustments’ have not been made to ensure symptoms are not worsened by the workplace environment.
Managers should also bear in mind the Health and Safety at Work Act, which dictates that employers must, where reasonably practical, provide a workplace that does not adversely affect a worker’s health.
How can I support a team member through the menopause?
Here are a few practical measures you can take:
- Develop a menopause policy
Similar to infertility policies, those centred on the menopause could layout the leave offered to women struggling with severe symptoms and any opportunities for changes to working hours or flexi-working. Importantly, a policy should also outline how a manager can sensitively address the topic of menopause with a worker. The menopause is a deeply personal and, sadly, still taboo subject and some may find it very difficult to talk about. Knowing that their manager is open and trained to talk and listen about the effects of the menopause, and will treat you with dignity and respect, could give your team member that extra bit of confidence to approach you.
- Appoint a menopause or wellbeing champion
This could be a trained person, separate from your team – perhaps working with HR or in occupational health – who workers could turn to if not yet comfortable to speak to a manager. The champion could also spearhead internal support groups.
- Undertake appropriate health and safety checks
Does your team member’s workspace have good ventilation, are toilets and washroom facilities nearby, is cold drinking water available? Little, simple changes like providing a fan, moving a desk near a window, and allowing them to take breaks when needed could make all the difference to the way they manage their symptoms at work.
- Be respectful
Most importantly, however, anyone tells you about their struggles with menopause, always be confidential, friendly, honest and empathetic.