Women of menopausal age are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace and according to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM), nearly eight out of 10 menopausal women are in work. In the past, both women experiencing menopause and their colleagues may have been embarrassed talking about it. But a study by the Fawcett Society and Channel 4 revealed that 10% of the 4,000 women polled had left their jobs due to not coping with the symptoms of their menopause so it is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed as a priority.
So, what can employers do to support women, and to help create an open culture where menopause is understood and people feel confident discussing it? Which workplace adjustments should be on offer to help people experiencing menopause feel more comfortable?
This is a complex subject and every woman’s experience will differ. Here are some tips to help employers manage menopause at work.
As with all aspects of promoting a healthy workplace culture, the tone starts at the top. The best way to get this right as a business leader, manager or colleague is to educate yourself. You’ll find a wealth of useful information online including this downloadable guide from CIPD.
Create awareness among employees
Menopause is a natural stage in every woman’s life. By creating awareness throughout the business managers can help to normalise menopause and reduce stigma.
Educational materials must be made available but, as we all know, asking team members to read pamphlets and suchlike isn’t always the best way to get information across. Workshops and training sessions where real-life situations can be discussed (providing you have willing participants, of course) and where people can ask and answer questions are much more valuable.
Be prepared to make reasonable adjustments
The FOM reports that three out of four women experience menopausal symptoms and one in four could experience serious symptoms. These include so-called brain fog, hot flushes, chills, low mood and anxiety and sleeplessness. Naturally, these changes in physical and mental health can impact significantly on team members so employers should do all they can to make work life more comfortable for the person.
The best way to do this is to ask the colleague what they need. An extra desk fan or more suitable desk positioning might make the world of difference, or some flexibility about working hours or being able to work from home could help. Furthermore, reassurance that you are doing all you can to create awareness so people will understand why the individual might be late to the odd meeting or may not feel like themselves from time to time should help them feel supported and that their issues are recognised.
Respect the person’s wishes
While your colleague will doubtless appreciate any efforts to make them feel more at ease at work, it’s important to keep in mind that they may not want to talk about their symptoms or the difficulties they are experiencing. Ask general questions but let them lead the conversation and don’t put any pressure on them to disclose information. They should be in control of which details are shared with colleagues and who will do the telling.
Don’t ever assume that you understand their situation as menopausal symptoms change over time and their needs today might be very different in a week or month’s time. As an employer, it is your responsibility to reassure your colleague that their job is not at risk due to their menopausal symptoms. If it helps, have an HR representative present during any meetings and keep documentation of what has been agreed as the situation evolves.
As with all HR-related subject matter, it is a very good idea to have a robust policy in place. You can find a great menopause policy on the Channel 4 Website to help inform your own.
Menopause should not be a taboo subject in the workplace. Your colleagues rely on you to support them. Showing that you are making your best efforts to accommodate their changing needs, raise awareness among colleagues and encourage a culture of openness shows you value all your employees and that you are committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace as well as health and wellbeing for everyone.
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