14 Jan Managing Menopause in the workplace
What is the menopause?
The menopause is a natural part of ageing for a woman. It is a biological stage that occurs when menstruation stops and signifies the end of a womans’ natural reproductive life.
Usually, it is defined as having occurred when a woman has not had a period for twelve consecutive months. The average age for menopause is 51 in the UK, however, it can be earlier or later than this due to surgery, illness or other medical reasons.
Not all women will have symptoms and those that do can vary in the type, amount and severity. It is difficult to predict how long or how many years symptoms will last, however on average continue for four years from the last period. 1 in 10 women may even experience symptoms for up to 12 years.
Common symptoms can manifest both physically and psychologically including:
- Hot flushes, Poor concentration, Headaches, Panic attacks, Heavy/light periods
- Mood disturbances, Anxiety/Feeling low, Loss of confidence
- Some women also experience difficulty sleeping
Why is the menopause a workplace issue?
According to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) there is good reason to consider the needs of this group of workers. In 2016, the employment rate for women in the UK of nearly 70% was among the highest since records began in 1971. Over the last four years, the number of women over the age of 50 has also increased: a trend predicted to continue.
Employers have responsibilities for the health and safety of all their employees, but there are also clear business reasons for proactively managing an age-diverse workforce. Some employers have been slow to recognise that women of menopausal age may need specific considerations and many employers do not yet have clear processes to support women coping with menopausal symptoms.
For some, going through the menopause may be relatively uneventful and may not impact on their working life but for others it may become increasingly difficult to function effectively at work and their working conditions may worsen their symptoms.
For many women, the menopausal transition also comes at a time of competing demands on their time and energy such as the need to care for elderly parents or relatives and often taking on the greater share of domestic responsibilities. This can have an impact on emotional wellbeing and lead to excessive levels of stress.
What can be done in the workplace to help?
There are recommendations about working conditions for menopausal women produced by the European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS). These are adapted below:
- Consider training senior management and line managers to recognise and raise awareness of the menopause and how it can affect women at work.
- Encourage and facilitate discussion about symptoms affecting women at work. A workplace wellbeing policy that recognises the menopause is a good starting point for raising awareness. This could also include information for female employees on how to alleviate symptoms themselves.
- Policies on flexible working should also recognise and support female employees experiencing the menopause, for example, considering later starts or shift changes for when sleep is disturbed
- Sickness absence procedures should be clear that the workplace is flexible to cater for menopause-related sickness absence.
- Review workplace temperature and ventilation as this can make hot flushes worse. Providing desk fans or locating a workstation near an open window or away from radiators is also useful to consider.
- Provide flexibility in terms of uniforms, for example, the use of thermally comfortable fabrics, optional layers, being allowed to remove neckties, scarves and jackets as well as providing changing and washroom facilities.
- It may be useful to have a quiet room for women to be able to take short breaks in, particularly when experiencing hot flushes for customer focused or public facing roles.
- Women should be advised to seek help in the form of self-help management or professional medical help to manage the symptoms.
Many women may be reluctant to discuss menopause-related health problems with their line manager, particularly when their line manager is male. If this is the case, it is important to consider an occupational health professional or alternatively if there is a female member of HR available. Regular informal conversations between managers and employees may enable discussion of their health and allow the employee to talk openly about what can be done to help manage their symptoms during work.
Where to get more advice