World Menopause Day – Menopause at Work

World Menopause Day – there’s no better opportunity to think about the menopause at work and the impact that the menopause has on staff. Last week, online fashion store giants ASOS announced flexible work policies and paid leave for staff during menopause as a host of new policies were introduced to support employees during ‘health-related life events’.

Managing the impact of the menopause at work is important for both employees and employers. It is a sensitive and personal matter and can be a difficult and stressful time for many employees. Whilst working from home, women have been able to control the situation themselves. However, any post pandemic return to the workplace could be made more difficult for them.

Impact of the Menopause on an Employee

What is the Menopause?

The menopause is a natural stage of life for women, usually in their late forties/early fifties although in some cases it can also happen much earlier or later. For many women symptoms last about four years, but it can last longer – up to 12 years.

Part of the process includes what is termed the ‘perimenopause’ when a woman’s body is starting to change in the build up to the menopause. The perimenopause usually starts in the mid-forties but can start earlier or later and last several years. The perimenopause is not the same as an early menopause.

Perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms already affect a substantial number of employees. That number is expected to grow considerably, with more older workers forecast to stay in or return to work. Also, employers should be aware that certain surgery, rather than natural ageing, can trigger the menopause in a woman.

In addition, employers should be aware that a trans man – someone who proposes to go through, is going through or has gone through a process, or part of a process, to change their gender from woman to man – may also go through perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

The number of symptoms can vary from person to person and range from very mild to severe. Some symptoms of perimenopause and menopause can be the same. and include difficulty sleeping and night sweats, feeling tired and lacking energy, mood swings, feeling anxious and panic attacks, hot flushes, struggling to remember things, concentrate and focus, irregular periods which can become heavier, aches and pains including muscle and joint stiffness, urinary problems, headaches including migraines and gaining weight.

If an employee does not get the help and support they need, it is increasingly likely that the effects of the menopause can lead to them feeling unwell, lose confidence in their job or even suffer from mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression.

Many employees do not disclose their menopausal symptoms at work for a multitude of reasons. In addition, many who take time off work because of the menopause do not tell their employer the real reasons for their absence.

Supporting an employee through the Menopause

Helpful steps for an employer include:

1) Make sure health and safety checks are suitable

An employer must minimise, reduce or where possible remove workplace health and safety risks for employees. This includes:

  • ensuring menopausal symptoms are not made worse by the workplace and/or its work practices
  • making changes to help an employee manage their symptoms when doing their job

An employer must generally assess health and safety risks for their staff. Regarding the perimenopause and menopause, an assessment could be made of:

  • the temperature and ventilation in the workplace
  • the materials used in an organisation’s uniform, if there is one, and whether the uniform might make an employee going through the perimenopause or menopause feel too hot or worsen skin irritation
  • somewhere suitable for them to rest
  • whether toilet and washroom facilities are easily available
  • whether cold drinking water is easily available
  • ensuring minimal levels of stress

2) Develop a policy and train managers

It is advisable for an employer to develop a policy and train all managers, supervisors and team leaders to make sure they understand:

  • how to have a conversation with an employee raising a perimenopause or menopause concern
  • how the perimenopause and menopause can affect an employee
  • what support and/or changes might be appropriate
  • the law relating to the menopause

It is advisable for an employer to raise awareness among all staff that it will handle menopause in the workplace sensitively, and with dignity and respect. An employee knowing their organisation’s managers are open and trained to talk and listen sensitively about the effects of the perimenopause and menopause, and consider support, should give them the confidence to approach their manager

3) Give employees the option of talking initially to someone other than their manager

If an employee feels unable to broach the subject with their line manager they could be given the option of talking initially to someone else with the necessary knowledge and training.

4) Carefully manage sickness absence or a dip in job performance

Managing absence from work should be handled sympathetically because the menopause is a long-term and fluctuating health change. Further, employers and employees should be prepared to make changes to help the employee continue to work, and minimise, reduce or remove any dips in their job performance because of symptoms. An employee should also be given a reasonable amount of time to adjust to changes.

If an employee is off sick because of the menopause or perimenopause, the employer should record these absences in a way that can be distinguished from other absences. This is because there may be times when it could be unfair or discriminatory to measure menopause-related absence as part of their overall attendance record. There are risks of disability discrimination and/or sex discrimination, and/or age discrimination if staff are mismanaged because of their menopause or perimenopause symptoms.

How the employer and employee together can find solutions

Both the employer and employee may find the menopause and perimenopause difficult topics to discuss as they are sensitive and personal. It is likely to be particularly difficult if the manager has not been trained how to have such a conversation. Also, the manager needs to be aware not to be discriminatory. The conversation should be confidential, friendly, honest, in private, and where both manager and employee feel as relaxed as they can in the circumstances, and where they will not be disturbed.

Health, safety and welfare at work

Managing the effects of the menopause and perimenopause includes making sure health and safety checks are already in place, are regularly carried out, and risks minimised, reduced or where possible removed.

It is very much in the interests of an organisation to support those with perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms in the workplace. As well as being an important health and wellbeing matter, managing menopause in the workplace sensitively and effectively will help an employer retain and recruit skills and experience.

An employer should bear in mind that currently around one in eight of the British workforce are women over 50. By 2022 it is forecast that around one in six will be women over 50. Most women over 50 will have, or have had, perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms that affect their work. and for one in three the symptoms will be severe.

The menopause is an issue which affects so many people in the workplace every year and most employers are unaware just how much this can affect a person’s life.

Should you wish to discuss menopause in the workplace in more detail, require in-house training for managers or assistance with drafting a menopause policy for your workplace, contact Sarah Collier, Partner and Head of Employment.