There are over 13 million menopausal women in the UK, 1 in 10 women quit their jobs due to menopause and discrimination cases have trippled in the past 3 years (source Davina McCall: Sex Mind and Menopause).
Menopause will usually affect women between the ages of 40 to 60, most commonly between the ages of 45 and 55 and symptoms typically last around 4 years but can last up to 12 years. Symptoms include:
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Feeling the heart racing and palpitations
- Difficulty sleeping
- Changes in mood, such as feeling tired, irritable, depressed or anxious
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor Memory
- Urinary Problems, such as recurrent urinary tract infections and loss of bladder control
As a result of these symptoms you may see an increase in absence and performance issues however with the right support you will be able to reduce the impact both on the business and women.
An employee who suffers less favourable treatment as a result of their menopause could bring a claim for discrimination on the grounds of sex, age and/or disabiltiy. It should be noted that a provision, criterion or practice allowed to all workers could still result in an indirect discrimination claim where it puts someone with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage, for example requiring all employees to take breaks only at designated times.
Employers should train managers to avoid stereotypical attitudes like this being a “women’s issue”.
How Can Employers Support Women Going Through Menopause?
Increase awareness of the Effects of Menopause
You don’t need a menopause policy to increase awareness but even a short one can be beneficial to let women know you are taking this seriously. With or without a policy, talking about the menopause and showing understanding is essential. Menopause has been a taboo subject for so long, it’s important to make women feel comfortable talking about it.
When we’re open in our communication this allows women to feel they can disclose the impact of their symptoms without fear. Once we know menopause symptoms are the issue we can deal with it effectively.
All employees have a statutory right to request flexible working once they have been employed for 26 weeks, however, this process is designed to create permanent changes to the contract of employment. It may be more appropriate to support with menopause symptoms through temporary flexible arrangements.
Adapting working times or allowing working from home could help with the impact of sleepless nights.
Temporary Changes to Tasks
Where symptoms include difficulty concentrating or an impact on memory employers should consider making temporary changes to the work being allocated. Whilst this may be possible in large teams it can be more challenging for small employers. However, every employer should consider what is reasonable in their circumstances, taking into account the individuals needs and what can be accomodated. Not forgetting that this is likely to be a very experienced member of the team and if you cannot make the changes needed you may lose those skills and experience. Always consider the options and document decisions where an adjustment is suggested or discussed but discounted as being unreasonable to the business. Given the risk of a discrimination claim in these circumstances we strongly recommend you take advice prior to refusing an adjustment.
Temperatures in the Workplace
The working environment can make menopause symtoms more difficult, where possible steps should be taken to address this such as working near a door or window or providing fans. Ensuring cold drinking water is available is also useful.
Employees with menopause symptoms like heavy or unexpected periods or urinanry problems will need more an urgent toilet breaks. Employers should ensure that working practices allow for this including the ability to cover unscheduled breaks (e.g. in a production line or retail shop floor).
Uniforms and Dress Codes
Employers should consider the impact of their uniforms and dress codes on menopause symptoms, hot flushes can be made worse by clothing, particulalry non-natural materials. Where possible these should be relaxed particularly in hot weather to ensure that women can wear suitable clothing.
Mental Health Support
It’s not just employees experiencing menopause that can benefit from counselling, congnative behavioural therapy and mindfullness. Managers cannot and should not become counsellors, providing access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is beneficial to both individual and employer.
An EAP will usually provide telephone counselling and more general wellness information, there is often the option to include face to face counselling for those who need it. This support will help employers with symptoms such as depression, low mood and/or anxiety, reducing the impact of these symptoms in the workplace.
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Article last updated: 25 May 2022
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