Menopause and the workplace – Why organisations should care
The ONS suggest that menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic yet most organisations don’t have anything in place to deal with the impacts that the menopause has on their workforce.
When I began experiencing peri-menopausal symptoms around the age of 44, I didn’t have a clue what was happening to me. I didn’t understand why my attention span was suddenly so short, why I was waking up at night drenched in sweat, why I was struggling to remember basic things and why I was having irrational anxiety that was unattributable to anything concrete. It affected how I performed at work.
Coincidentally, I began researching the impact of menopause in the workplace because my employer at that time had a demographic which included higher numbers of older women. This research made me realise what was happening to me and pushed me to seek me help from my GP.
The subject of menopause is one that is widely misunderstood and not a topic many feel comfortable discussing – we can explore the societal reasons for this another time. What it is important for employers to know is that three out of four women experience symptoms and one in four could experience serious symptoms.
And it doesn’t just impact women. Many women experiencing these symptoms will be in relationships with men, men who also work for an employer. When partner’s behaviour is changing and there is little or no understanding why, it can cause issues in the relationship. There is no disputing that issues at home will impact on performance in work.
Take the night sweats issue – if your male employee is not sleeping properly because his partner’s night sweats impact his sleep, he is going to be tired during his working day.
Menopausal symptoms can affect an employer because there is the potential for increased absences, drop-offs in performance levels and changes in behaviour which impact on colleagues.
So what can employers do to ensure their working environment and the organisation’s performance are minimally impacted by the issue of menopause?
It starts with education – education of the workforce and of the people managers. Without understanding it, women may not recognise what is happening to them and fail to get the medical support they need. If your male employees who have partner’s experiencing symptoms don’t understand what is happening, how can they be supportive to their partners?
If the topic is taboo, the conversation can’t happen. The environment needs to be safe for women to share their experiences and how it might be impacting on the working environment and vice versa. If the problem isn’t discussed, a solution can’t be put in place.
Ask the women what would make the working environment better for them.
It could be simple things like arranging a cupboard in the female toilet so that sanitary products can be stored (not just relevant to women experiencing menopausal symptoms, by the way).
If uniforms are required, can they be modified to help women deal with hot flushes or would a desk fan help?
The interventions don’t need to be expensive or complex – little things can make a big difference.
The tribunal claims in relation to discrimination due to menopausal symptoms have begun and a couple have succeeded already.
The symptoms can last between four and eight years and may qualify under section 6 of the Equality Act as a disability. There are also potential sex and age discrimination angles that could apply.
While it might be a tough sell due to society’s reluctance to openly discuss the issue of menopause, employers can’t ignore it without consequences – either performance-related or legal.
If your organisation wants help in devising an approach to menopause in their workplace, get in touch and see where 2020 HR Consultancy might be able to help.