Managing the menopause in the workplace has become a more topical issue in recent times.
In this article, we will consider:
- why employers need to think about this
- the legal context and risks
- practical tips for managing staff who may be going through the menopause.
There are 15 million women in the UK workforce, and 3.5 million women over 50 in UK workplaces. Currently, one in eight women in the UK workforce is over 50, but this is forecast to rise to one in six by 2022. In the UK, the average age for a woman to go through the menopause is 51, so there is a large group of UK employees who are going to go through, or have gone through, the menopause.
ACAS suggests that two million women aged over 50 will have difficulties at work, due to symptoms of the menopause and that one in three women over 50 will have had severe symptoms from the menopause or perimenopause.
How employers manage the menopause in the workplace will impact on staff well being, staff retention, and equality and diversity.
Employers have a duty to minimise, reduce or where possible remove, health and safety risks for workers. So, ensuring that menopausal symptoms are not made worse by the workplace or work practices, and making changes to help a worker manage their symptoms at work is critical. There is also a duty not to behave in a way which may undermine the implied duty of trust and confidence.
There is limited case law dealing with menopause transition in the UK but two first instance decisions have recently linked the menopause to the protected characteristics of sex, and disability. There is the possibility of other successful discrimination claims being brought in future, for example, indirect discrimination, failure to make reasonable adjustments, victimisation or harassment.
Employers should consider how to manage their risks by carrying out risk assessments, reviewing their policies and procedures, considering training and thinking about environmental factors, such as temperature control.
What is the Menopause?
The menopause is a natural stage of life, usually starting in the late 40’s and involves the decline of women’s oestrogen levels until no eggs are produced. As it goes on for a number of years, it is better to view it as a stage or transition rather than an event. Some women may also have an early menopause, either naturally, or as a result of surgery or medical treatment. The perimenopause usually starts in mid 40’s.
There are a number of symptoms of perimenopause and menopause – both physical and psychological. Symptoms affect women differently and some can experience very mild symptoms while others experience very severe ones. Symptoms can include; feeling tired and low on energy, hot flushes, irregular and heavy periods, aches and pains, mood swings, difficulty sleeping and night sweats, anxiety and panic attacks, struggling with concentration or focus, and headaches and migraines.
Women who do not get support with symptoms may lose confidence in their roles at work, and may suffer with poor mental health.
What Can Employers Do?
- Think about and talk about the topic
- Treat symptoms of the menopause as you would any other health condition.
- Make work an open environment where employees can talk about their symptoms, if they are causing difficulties at work
- Think about introducing a Menopause Policy
- Talk to staff who are struggling about appropriate adjustments
- Involve line managers
- Think about appointing Menopause Champions in your workplace
- Raise awareness of the topic in your workplace, in a way appropriate for your culture – posters, newsletters, a menopause policy, menopause cafes can all work. Use simple messages and get senior management on board.
Appropriate adjustments may include private areas to rest, working time arrangements, access to toilets, and a good temperature in the workplace. Discuss options with the staff concerned. Think about alleviating the barriers to allow women affected to carry on in their role.
Think about how this process will be managed in practice. There should be conversations with the employee, identifying specific issues, and identifying any appropriate adjustments which may help. These should be recorded and a follow up should be arranged. Decide who can make decisions about adjustments; line managers or senior management?
The Role of Line Managers
Line managers are critical in managing the menopause in the workplace. They are typically the first point of contact for people who are struggling with symptoms. They are responsible for implementing policies and supporting good performance, as well as also responsible for managing absence and supporting returns to work.
- Encourage regular one to ones between managers and their staff. This can create the environment where staff can speak up. Managers should keep information discussed at these meetings confidential and agree with the staff member who they are happy to inform and how.
- Train line managers in how to deal with sensitive conversations such as these.
- Encourage managers to ask about staff well-being or issues which they have noticed, but not to ask direct questions about the menopause. Remember that it is up to the individual to disclose their symptoms.
- Create awareness for managers so that they are comfortable in providing information and training on the topic.
- For some women, the symptoms of the menopause may affect their performance or cause absences. Take this into account when managing performance and making adjustments, for example by treating absence related to the menopause separately to absence for other reasons.
- Remember that the menopause is potentially a long term health issue and may fluctuate over time.
There is likely to be an increased focus on managing the menopause in the workplace as the number of women going through the menopause increases in the UK workforce. This presents potential challenges to employers, but also rewards in terms of increased staff well-being, good staff retention rates and good HR practice.
The HR consultants at Narrow Quay HR are available to chat through any queries you may have related to menopause and are able to help with any of the issues raised, including menopause policies or a review of your practices and procedures. Please contact our HR specialist Caitlin Anniss on 07909 683 938.