October 18th marks Menopause Awareness Day.
Menopause usually affects women between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can also happen earlier, and to anyone who has periods. Menopause marks the end of menstrual cycles, when periods stop due to lower hormone levels. It can happen naturally, or for reasons such as oophorectomy (surgery to remove the ovaries), hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus), cancer treatments like chemotherapy, or genetic reasons.
Menopause has a number of associated symptoms and can have a huge, sometimes debilitating impact on a person’s life. Some of these are:
- Hot flushes and night sweats, including palpitations and physical discomfort
- Pain and incontinence
- Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
- Depression, anxiety, and mood changes
An awareness of Menopause is crucial across all aspects of life to ensure that people going through it are given the right support and access to healthcare. This includes in the workplace. The CIPD found that 67% of women with experience of menopausal symptoms say that it has had a ‘mostly negative’ effect on them at work, and over a quarter of women in the UK say that the menopause has had a negative impact on their career progression.
The House of Commons Committee report, ‘Menopause and the Workplace’, noted how women experiencing menopause are forced to take more time off work, reduce their hours, miss out on or forgo promotions or other advancement opportunities, and leave or consider leaving the workforce entirely.
Unfortunately, menopause is still largely taboo, leading to widespread misunderstanding, even for women experiencing symptoms. They may not realise their symptoms are part of menopause in the first place, or feel unable to talk about it because of how stigmatised it is.
So, what can organisations do?
“Our guidance shows that if employers create a culture where everyone can talk openly about health issues, such as the menopause, women are much more likely to feel confident about asking for the support they need to be effective in their role. Managers also need to work closely with their HR teams to understand what simple, practical adjustments can be made to help women feel more comfortable and able to manage their work.”CIPD
There are a number of measures you can take to establish your organisation as menopause-friendly. We have broken these down into five main steps:
- Creating an open culture around menopause
Tackling the idea of menopause as something taboo is fundamental to supporting those affected by it. This may involve offering training and resources in the workplace, not shying away from conversations around menopause, and calling out discrimination behaviour when it occurs.
Importantly, men should also be included in these open conversations and training, to increase understanding, particularly for those who may be supporting others affected by menopause.
Creating a positive and open environment for people affected by menopause can prevent employees from losing confidence in themselves, feeling like they need to hide their reasons for absences, having increased mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, or leaving their job altogether.
- Implementing a framework of support
As part of creating an open culture in the workplace, it is a good idea to have substantial measures in place to support employees affected by menopause. This may include having a menopause or wellbeing ‘champion’ who can act as a point of contact for staff, support employers, direct people to external resources, and set up networks in the workplace.
Moreover, it is vital to factor menopause into health and safety risk assessments. This involves thinking about how a person’s job role could make their menopause symptoms harder to manage. Eg, considering the temperature and ventilation of the workplace, material and fit of the uniform, toilet facilities and accessibility of them.
- Commiting to building equitable workplace
Employers should commit to building workplaces that retain and provide opportunities for employees going through the menopause. This may include representational analysis of data, to ensure that people affected by menopause are given equal chances of progressing up the career ladder and work to put a stop to the large number of menopausal women leaving their jobs.
- Fair leave and absence policies
Acas recommend employers record absences related to the menopause separately from other absences. They note: ‘this is because there may be times when it could be unfair or discriminatory to measure menopause-related absence as part of the person’s overall attendance record.’ Having leave and absence policies in place for employees affected by the menopause could therefore be a fundamental part of making workplaces fair and inclusive.
- Flexible working
Flexible working options are incredibly useful for people going through the menopause. The Flexible Working Bill now allows employees more flexibility with their working hours, patterns, and environment – a great step for people affected by menopause, who may benefit from flexibility with working hours and work from home options, in order to manage their symptoms better.
Acas have training sessions on menopause in the workplace. Learn more and sign up here.
Read The Menopause Charity’s guidance on getting support from your employer if you are affected by menopause here.