How can menopause impact women at work and what can we do about it?
“More than a million British women feel under pressure to quit their jobs due to menopause symptoms, as the majority of workplaces don’t have any menopause support in place, new research has found.” - The Independent
When we think about menopause - if we think about menopause - we tend to focus on the symptoms and consequences: hot flushes, no more periods, and so forth. However, it’s not just that the consequences of menopause can be a challenge to manage or come to terms with, it’s also that they have a practical impact on our daily lives, including our work. So, how can menopause impact women at work and what can we do about it?
The impact of menopause on women at work
Naturally, how women are impacted by menopause at work will vary from one person to the next. Some women experience very mild symptoms of menopause, others experience quite severe symptoms. Of the women we have spoken to, the symptoms which come up time and again as having an impact at work include:
- Hot flushes
- Brain fog
Of course, any of the symptoms of menopause might prove a challenge - emotional wellbeing, low moods and feeling isolated can all have an impact on how we feel at work as well.
One of our MPlus contributors, Penny, said:
“I think there are things that can be done to help make the workplace more accessible to women going through menopause and to help you do your job well. For example, I’m situated near a staffroom so I can easily get a drink which is great as I drink all the time now. They’ve also limited the amount of moving from one site to another that I have to do, which is helpful. I have a bit more structure too because you’re working with a foggy memory a lot of the time so structure really helps.”
Supporting employees who are going through menopause is important on two fronts for businesses and organisations:
- On the one hand, creating a culture of support at work can only be beneficial to your business - helping you to keep valuable and experienced employees (especially during the current skills shortage), maintaining productivity and positive business outcomes, and generally creating a positive working environment.
- On the other hand, it’s also the ethical thing to do - supporting people as they go through changes in their lives.
The public service union, Unison, is campaigning for employers to see menopause as a workplace issue. They note that women make up 51% of the UK workforce and they will all almost inevitably go through menopause at some point - not necessarily in their 50s. In their Guidance and Model Policy, they write:
"Many women are being driven from the workplace because they find that adapting problematic symptoms around inflexible work expectations is just too difficult. Others may find that managing symptoms mean they miss out on promotions and training, reduce their hours, lose confidence in the workplace and see their pay levels drop, all contributing to a widening gender pay gap.”
Menopause and the Equality Act 2010
Unison also notes that under the Equality Act 2010, indirect age discrimination may be the result of a rule or policy which puts people within a certain age group at a disadvantage. They highlight:
“Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers, where failure to do so would place the disabled worker at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled workers. They must not treat employees less favourably than others as a result of a disability. In some circumstances, menopausal symptoms may meet the Equality Act definition of disability.”
Interestingly, they cite case law in the form of Davies v Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, where the tribunal considered that Ms Davies was disabled as defined by the Equality Act because of the substantial and long-term menopausal symptoms which caused memory loss and confusion.
How can employers support menopausal employees?
All of that said, the purpose of looking at how employers can help menopausal employees isn’t about creating a litigious culture. It’s about creating a supportive, empathetic, positive and productive working environment that’s beneficial to all.
With that in mind, what reasonable adjustments can employers make in the workplace to support menopausal employees?
Create a culture of open communication
Most of the women we spoke to simply want to feel that it’s ok to communicate what was happening and what they needed at work, especially as it can vary so much from one person to the next:
Maximise the benefits of flexible and remote working
Consider how the working day and tasks are organised
Consider your language
Review performance management measurements
Review your policies
If a woman is struggling with hot flushes, can her desk/ position at work be moved to a cooler location or could the provision of small desk fans be implemented? Is there easy access to cold drinks, well-maintained toilets or even shower facilities? Could more breaks in the day be of benefit? If they wear a uniform is it a fabric that will exacerbate symptoms or do they need additional uniform items?
Far and away the most important thing for women in the workplace is to feel supported and that they can speak to their employer, or someone in a position of authority, to explain what’s happening to them and, where relevant, ask for help.
The net result is a happier and more productive working environment for everyone and as employers you get to keep these amazing women who contribute so much to your business.