Following the government’s response to the ‘Menopause and the Workplace: How to enable fulfilling working lives’ report there have been calls to make Menopause a protected characteristic alongside age, race, sexual orientation, disability etc. Given that around 3.5 million women aged between 15 and 65 years are currently in employment in the UK and represent nearly half of the UK labour force, this is a conversation which is likely to effect all employers going forward.
First and foremost, it’s important to consider inclusivity. Menopause and its symptoms are not just a concern for ‘women of a certain age’. You should ensure your plans, processes or policies take into account everyone experiencing menopause symptoms, including those who are experiencing early menopause naturally or due to treatments like radiotherapy, and trans or non binary employees. Further to this, studies have shown differences in how menopause effects Black, Asian and Latina women compared to white women.
Menopause and it’s symptoms
Menopause takes place when the ovaries become unable to produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. This usually happens naturally and the average age to start experiencing symptoms of menopause is 51 years. However, symptoms can often begin happening several years before that. Menopause can also be triggered by damage to the ovaries through chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or for those who have undergone a hysterectomy. Menopause in a person younger than 40 is called premature menopause.
Symptoms of menopause are many and varied. It’s estimated 70% of people will experience symptoms when going through the menopause. The early symptoms, also known as perimenopause, can last for several months or years and include:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Joint aches
- Reduced libido
- Weight gain and changing body shape
- Psychological symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, difficulty coping and forgetfulness
There are common later symptoms which can also be distressing mostly related to the bladder and vagina:
- Passing urine more often by day and/or by night
- Discomfort on passing urine
- Urine infection
- Leakage of urine
- Vaginal dryness, discomfort, discharge, burning and itching
How can menopause symptoms effect employees at work?
Aside from the obvious symptoms, many people find they are unprepared for the onset of the menopause and are even less equipped to manage its symptoms at work. Affected employees tend not to disclose their symptoms to their manager. Many feel they need further advice and support but that policies and practices where they work are not designed with menopausal women in mind.
Symptoms such as heavy and painful periods, hot flushes, mood swings, fatigue and poor concentration can affect performance and absence levels but many employees find them difficult or embarrassing to discuss with their manager. In fact, some women consider working part time or leaving employment altogether despite the impact on them both financially and on their career.
What can employers do?
- Implement a policy on menopause. This is a real occupational health issue and should be treated as such. Having a policy also signals intent to your employees that you will support them with managing their menopause symptoms at work. You may also need to review your sickness policy to ensure this doesn’t disadvantage those experiencing menopause symptoms that can go on for a number of years.
- Raise awareness among your managers and leadership and HR teams, and foster an environment which makes people comfortable discussing their symptoms (and of course any other health concerns) and how this affects them at work.
- Look at the physical work environment, such as temperature control and ventilation to help manage hot flushes.
- Consider flexible working arrangements to help employees manage their symptoms – such as early/late starts, working from home etc.
- Provide access to more formal support such as an Employee Assistance Program or extending private medical coverage.
If you’d like support to implement a policy on menopause or to review your current practices, the HR Overload team are here to help. Get in touch on email@example.com.
For more information and background reading:
Menopause Matters – https://www.menopausematters.co.uk/