How should we address menopause in the workplace?

Menopause, which usually happens to women at around the age of 51, can trigger symptoms that make work more challenging.

With more women aged between 50 and 64 than ever before in the UK workforce - over 4.2 million, does more need to be done to acknowledge and address the possible impact of menopause on women's performance at work?

Dr Claire Hardy, founder and managing director of Women's Health at Work, thinks so. In her Posturite webinar Experiencing Menopause in the Workplace, she mentions the results of one piece of research which found that:

  • 70% of women would not disclose menopause difficulties to their line manager
  • 11.9% had taken a day off because of their menopause
  • But less than half of these had disclosed the real reason for absence (41.5%).

"For some it can be a difficult and embarrassing experience at work," Dr Hardy says. So what is menopause, what are the symptoms, and why can they be troublesome in the workplace?

Menopause: symptoms and experiences

The menopause is a naturally occurring event defined as a woman's last menstrual period, usually around age of 51 in western cultures.

Symptoms during this transition will vary person to person. It is not possible to predict when menopause will happen, or for how long.

Symptoms:

One third of women experiencing menopause say their symptoms are particularly bothersome and interfere with their everyday lives.

They typically include

  • hot flushes
  • night sweats
  • mood changes
  • sleep disturbance.

Positive experiences:

While some menopause symptoms can be challenging, it is not always a completely negative experience.

Difficult menopausal experience at work

Some of the most difficult symptoms to deal with at work include:

  • poor concentration
  • poor memory
  • feeling tired
  • low mood
  • low confidence.

Hot flushes make certain work situations particularly difficult to deal with, such as:

  • working to a deadline
  • working in shared office
  • tasks requiring attention to fine detail
  • doing high visibility work
  • formal meetings and presentations
  • working in hot/unventilated places

What do studies show women say they would like?

Why do women find it difficult to talk to their line managers about their menopause difficulties? In the survey most said it was because they either had a male line manager, or a younger male or female line manager. They felt embarrassed and were concerned they would not be understood or receive a positive response.

"This is important because if line managers don't know of any problems or difficulties with their staff then they won't know if they need to do anything differently, or what could be done to help."

What steps can we take?

  • Raising awareness - employers and line managers, women, all staff.
  • Supportive policies and practices - e.g. sickness absence, flexible working, informal support, training (communication skills), more control over physical working environment (desk fans etc.).
  • Build a women's health-friendly work culture, not just a 'women's problem'.
  • Use an evidence-based, balanced approach.

"Included in this is the importance of having awareness of all staff. If all staff have some knowledge and awareness, it's potentially beneficial as it might help foster conversations and help women feel more supported at work, and more able to ask for help if they need it. It's important that as professionals, we provide a balanced and accurate understanding of the menopause without being overly negative and unhelpful."

Suggested process for addressing menopause in the workplace

1. Initial needs assessment

Where are you now?

  • What are your staff populations?
  • What do staff need or want?
  • Use evidence (seek advice where necessary).

2. Action plan

  • ST/LT goals (e.g. build better awareness, a menopause-friendly culture)
  • Available resources
  • Barriers and facilitators
  • Use an evidence-driven decision process.

3. Implementation

  • Provide information, workshops, training, coaching, guidance and policy documents.

4. Evaluating and monitoring

  • Gather evidence
  • Adapt to help achieve goals.

You can watch Dr Clare Hardy's webinar here:

With her organisation Women's Health at Work, Dr Clare Hardy has produced an infographic displaying results from research into 'what do working menopausal women want from their employers?

It is every employer's duty of care to make sure reasonable adjustments are made for individuals in the workplace. Our Equality Act e-learning course explains what your obligations are and how best to carry them out for a fair and productive workplace.