Martin Williams is a Partner and Head of Employment at the law firm Mayo Wynne Baxter. Here, he talks about how employers can support women in the workplace as they go through menopause.
Understanding menopause at work
The first step for employers with respect to the menopause is very simple: acknowledge that it is something that happens to around 50% of the population.
Having acknowledged this, reflect on the age demographic of your workforce to identify the likely number of women who are approaching menopause or perimenopause, may already be perimenopausal or going through the menopause.
As a society, we have generally been reluctant to address the impact of the menopause. That is not surprising in a society where norms in behaviour have been set by men for so long. Fortunately, things are starting to change, but it needs effort on many fronts.
Supporting women through menopause at work
Some women will be reluctant to talk about the menopause precisely because the norms in society have made the subject taboo or, in some instances, the focus of demeaning humour.
To help those women, employers should look at how they can be more open about the menopause. Employers should not wait to be approached by staff who are going through the menopause. Instead, they should make it clear to all employees, no matter their age or gender, that those going through the menopause, will be supported.
Supporting women through menopause is not discrimination
Taking the initiative is not discriminatory either by age or sex. Not taking the initiative and allowing people to suffer as a result of them going through the menopause, could lead to actions or omissions that may amount to some form of discrimination.
The message must be given to all because it takes all employees to create a supportive work environment. While men will not go through the menopause, they will be working with women who will. They need to know what the menopause is and its, often, debilitating impact on so many women. How colleagues, especially men, can assist and how they should behave is a key component in making those women experiencing difficulties feel more at ease, even if it does not alleviate the physical pain.
Some women may want to be more light-hearted than others. Some may find that the pain they are experiencing leads to depression. The hormonal and physical effects of menopause are many, and each person should be treated as an individual. The lead should be taken from the individual. There cannot be a one-size-fits-all response.
Company culture and the menopause
There is a place for uniformity but that is in attitude: openness and respect.
Employers should listen to what staff say they need.
The greater the understanding of the workforce, the better it is for those who are experiencing difficulties. Menopause can be bad enough - the last thing women need is to feel misunderstood.
A policy is a good starting place, but policies are only as good as their implementation.
A smaller employer may not need a written policy. Instead, they could simply look at how they interact with all their staff to improve care, consideration, and compassion.
Larger organisations may find a policy helps to focus the mind, but that focus must be on individuals, both in terms of support and education.
Facilitating training for those who manage staff is a good way of supporting staff and opens the conversation.