How businesses can support female employees experiencing the menopause
Women over the age of 50 are a fast-growing segment of the workforce, and most will go through the menopause during their working lives. While employers have responsibilities for the health and safety of all their employees, there are also clear business benefits to promoting an age and gender-diverse workforce. Meeting the health and wellbeing needs of your workforce is likely to result in improved attendance, engagement and productivity, and reduced employee turnover.
What is the menopause?
The menopause is a natural part of ageing for women. It usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, although it can occur any time up to a woman’s mid-60s. But women at various stages of working life can be affected; while menopause is typically associated with women over 50, 1 in 100 will have an early menopause, and women in their 20s and 30s can be affected. Women can go through a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms associated with the menopause transition, including hot flushes, night sweats and related symptoms such as sleep disruption, fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
Most menopausal women experience symptoms, although everyone is different and symptoms can be fluctuating and be felt to varying degrees. Although on average symptoms last for around four years, around one in ten experience them for up to 12 years.
Menopause in the workplace
Stress, anxiety and depression are common menopause-related conditions reported by women in the workplace. Women of menopausal age may have the added pressures of caring responsibilities for grandchildren and older dependants. Almost a third of women have taken sick leave because of menopause symptoms ranging from hot flushes and ‘brain fog’ to emotional distress, anxiety, disturbed sleep, fatigue, migraines and urinary problems. But only a quarter of those taking menopause-related leave have reported these symptoms to their manager, according to research by the CIPD.
The solution is for employers to develop a work culture in which women feel able to disclose and discuss menopausal symptoms.
Starting the conversation
Training should be provided for employees and managers to raise awareness and convey that the menopause can present difficulties for some women at work. Discussion about symptoms should be facilitated, while keeping in mind that some women may be reluctant to talk about their experience of the menopause with their manager and shouldn’t feel forced into a discussion.
Should this be the case, referral to an occupational health professional can be very helpful. Employers can help by communicating that health-related problems such as those experienced during the menopause are normal, and by treating menopause as a long-term health condition.
Canvass opinion from female employees to establish what information or resources would be useful to them, and ensure that treatment information and support is clearly signposted. Employers may find it useful to communicate that health-related problems such as those experienced during the menopause are common, and that adjustments can easily be made. Such conversations can identify support at work that can help women remain fully productive and encourage them to discuss any relevant health concerns with their GP.
Here are some physical workplace adjustments which can make a significant difference for women experiencing the menopause:
- Review control of workplace temperature and ventilation and 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.
- Consider flexible working hours or shift changes. If sleep is disturbed, later start times might be helpful.
- Provide access to cold drinking water in all work situations, including off site venues.
- Ensure access to washroom facilities and toilets, including when travelling or working in temporary locations.