Menopause, menopause, menopause. There, we've said it.
You’ve probably heard that university staff are being asked to say “menopause” three times a day to destigmatise something that every woman will likely go through. In fact, around 3.5 million women aged over 50 years are currently employed in the UK - many of whom experience the varying symptoms of the menopause every day.
This is a huge section of the workforce and, although all women experience the menopause differently, many of them could potentially be struggling with their symptoms. Because of the nature of the menopause, it’s often something that women may feel reluctant or embarrassed to discuss with their employer.
What is the menopause and what are the symptoms?
It’s a natural part of female ageing when menstruation stops. It usually occurs between 45-55 years of age, although it can occur any time up to the mid-60s. Symptoms that may affect work include poor concentration, tiredness, poor memory and a lack of confidence and can last between four and eight years.
Other symptoms include difficulty sleeping, fatigue and joint/muscle pain as well as conditions such as heart palpitations, problematic periods, cystitis/urinary tract infections and even increased risk from other, more serious conditions such as osteoporosis. In short, it isn’t fun and can make even the simplest of tasks much more difficult.
How can employers help?
Menopause can be a long-term issue and so finding a way to support the employee in their work is more beneficial than them prolonged periods of absence.
- Employers should ensure that, as part of a wider occupational health awareness campaign, that issues such as the menopause are highlighted so all staff know that the employer has a positive attitude to the issue, and that it is not something that women should feel embarrassed about. Guidance on how to deal with the menopause should be freely available in the workplace
- Women should be supplied with the relevant information and access to internal support networks should they not wish to speak to their manager, e.g. HR or their EAP
- Line managers should be awareness-trained on how the menopause can affect working women and what adjustments may be necessary to support them. Awareness training/sessions should also be provided to employees to convey that the menopause can present difficulties for some women at work
- Regular, informal conversations between manager and employee may enable discussion of changes in health, including issues relating to the menopause. However, employers need to recognise that some women may be reluctant to have discussions about their experience of the menopause with their manager and an occupational health professional can be very useful
- Sickness absence procedures should be flexible enough to cater for menopause-related sickness absence. Menopausal women may experience bouts of feeling unwell at work, so managers should take a flexible and sympathetic approach to requests for a break or even a return home
- Control of workplace temperature and ventilation should be reviewed to see how they might be adapted to meet the needs of individuals. This might include having a desktop fan in an office, or locating a workstation near an opening window or away from a heat source
- Managers should consider flexible working hours or shift changes. If sleep is disturbed, later start times might be helpful
- Access to cold drinking water in all work situations, including off-site venues, should be made available
- Access to wash room facilities and toilets, including when travelling or working in temporary locations, should be made available
- Additional considerations and adjustments may be required for specific occupations or locations.
Severe menopausal symptoms and their consequences may combine to have a substantial adverse effect on normal day to day activities – potentially meeting the legal definition of a disability under the Equality Act. Advice from occupational health professionals such as those at Duradiamond Healthcare can support HR policy.
Embedding the menopause in a wider health and wellbeing agenda may help encourage discussion of issues related to supporting longer working lives.