With women’s presence in the workplace significantly increasing in recent years, figures are currently reporting that there are 15.49 million women aged over 16 in employment. 3.5 million women in the workplace are aged over 50, there is no getting away from it; menopause in the workplace is an important factor for employers to consider.
In 2019, a survey undertaken by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Bupa, reported that three in five menopausal women (usually aged between 45 and 55) were negatively impacted at work and that almost 900,00 women had left employment, because of menopausal symptoms. Reports suggest three out of four people experience symptoms: one in four can experience severe symptoms that impact on their day-to-day life.
Due to the increased awareness highlighted in the media and the impact of menopause in the workplace, the Governments Women Equalities Committee launched an inquiry titled “Menopause in the Workplace”. As part of this inquiry, the committee will be debating whether there should be a mandatory requirement introduced for employers to have a menopause policy in place.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is normally a gradual process over several years from perimenopausal to menopause symptoms, when a woman’s period ceases. Typically, women hit menopause between the age of 45-55, with the average age in the UK being 51 years old.
The symptoms can be triggered by some cancer treatments and if a woman has a full hysterectomy, as well as in exceptional cases some women under the age of 45 can experience premature menopause. The change in the hormonal balance changes as the ovaries stop producing the hormone oestrogen, and can result in a woman experiencing symptoms, which include:-
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Difficulty sleeping
- Low mood or anxiety
- Problems with memory and concentration
Associated medical conditions can increase risk, including heart disease and osteoporosis.
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Menopause and Employment Law
At present, there is no legal requirement for employers to have a policy or to protect employees from discrimination in relation to menopause.
However, there has been a rise in cases being brought to Employment Tribunals, with 5 cases being cited in 2018, and 10 cases in the first six months of 2021. A further 116 cases were resolved by in-house resolutions in the UK, with citations under the Equality Act around age, sex and disability.
Currently, under the Equality Act 2010, employees can bring a discrimination claim on the grounds of only one aspect of their identity, and there are calls within the Women’s Committee Inquiry, that either the rules are strengthened in support of people who feel their cases of discrimination cover more than one characteristic or that menopause itself is added as a characteristic to the Equality Act.
So what can Employers do?
In the same way we have seen a positive increase in the awareness of Mental Health in the Workplace, employers can deliver training, webinars or provide information about menopause to all their employees to help them understand what some of their fellow colleagues or family members may be going through. Raising awareness is a key factor and empowering managers with the knowledge to confidently have those perceived difficult conversations with women experiencing symptoms of perimenopause or menopause, during their working careers, which will undoubtedly really support our female workers of the future.
Communication and Understanding
As always, communication and understanding are key. Employers could consider introducing Menopause Support Mentors, who are given relevant training, similar to that of Mental Health First Aiders or Wellbeing Champions. This can give employees a first point of contact to talk to someone, as many women will fear talking to their managers in the beginning. Clear communication and understanding also ensure women know there is a safe space for them to talk honestly and openly about how they are feeling, and how it is impacting them.
Flexibility and Adjustments
Having an open dialogue with employees leads to employers being able to consider how they can best support them, such as with flexible working solutions and workplace adjustments. This could be a change in working hours or start and finish times, providing a fan or acknowledging that sometimes, people may need some fresh air, and they may have no power over when that. If your organisation provides uniforms, consider the fabrics that are used; hot flushes and overheating can be made a little easier if breathable fabrics are used.
Physical and psychological changes women may experience during this time are important factors to consider. When having discussions with employees whose performance may be impacted by the symptoms they are experiencing, and best practice would all be reasonable adjustments to consider when supporting the employee.
While not currently a legal requirement, it is wise to get ahead of the game and show support to the female members in your workforce, along with managers who are faced with supporting people through this potentially tricky time in their working lives. In addition to a comprehensive menopause policy, providing support and training to help managers understand and implement the policy is equally as important. A clear policy also helps managers feel comfortable and confident to start the discussion.
Still not convinced?
Attracting and retaining key talent and experience is time-consuming and costly, therefore demonstrating your commitment to support the health and wellbeing of all members of your team, including those experiencing menopause will help maintain your employer brand and competitive edge.
If you would like help with creating a menopause policy, or supporting your managers in having tricky conversations, please feel free to speak to a friendly and experienced member of our team.