Recently, there has been a significant focus on the menopause and how it affects women in the workplace, raising awareness of the symptoms and the responsibility employers have to support women who are experiencing this stage of their life. This will be welcomed by many female employees who have suffered silently for some time believing this to be a taboo topic or one of significant embarrassment.
What is the menopause? The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between the ages 45 and 55, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51. However, around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before 40 years of age. This is known as premature menopause. There are also circumstances where the menopause occurs following surgery and there are no age parameters in such circumstances.
Most women will experience menopausal symptoms. Some of these can be quite severe and have a significant impact on their everyday activities. Symptoms include;
These symptoms can last for around 4 years however, some women experience them longer.
How can the menopause affect a woman’s working day?
Hot flushes– one of the most obvious problems a hot flush poses in the workplace is temperature control. If working in an office environment, there may be a pre-set temperature, a high temperature will heighten the effects and symptoms a woman experiences when having a hot flush. Good ventilation, open windows and the flexibility to leave the office when this occurs as some women will be visibly distressed by this experience, may also help.
Low mood or anxiety– the menopause can affect a woman’s mental health significantly. High stress levels and anxiety are often experienced therefore good management of workloads can support together with regular effective and meaningful communication. Flexibility with hours where possible can also support as inflexible hours and inadequate holiday days may add to the feelings of stress and amplify the already persisting symptoms.
Increased need to urinate- it has been reported that many women experience dizziness, fatigue and have an increased urge to urinate. In a workplace this may be noticeable as it may be significantly more than other colleagues and if working in a company where there is a strict policy on breaks this may be challenging and embarrassing for the sufferer. Fostering good relationships and well trained managers are essential when supporting employees through sensitive personal health issues.
While there is no official law that addresses the menopause, there is legislation that states an employer must protect the health, safety and welfare of all employees. This of course includes women who are going through the menopause. So, as an employer, in addition to the earlier suggestions, you will not doubt be asking what can you do to support a woman who is going through the menopause?
A key point is to encourage communication and discussion, a lack of communication and understanding can cause great difficulty in terms of how the menopause is experienced in the workplace and how the difficulties being faced are resolved. Women may be embarrassed to talk about what they are experiencing especially with supervisors and managers who are male therefore, it is important to be open to discussing their needs and making appropriate adjustments where possible. Adjustments may be, being able to change the temperature in the room, relocation to a position where there is a window, or near the office door so that fresh air can be accessed easily. Consider a flexible working schedule i.e. more frequent breaks and suitable shifts, review and discuss this regularly. Wherever possible endeavour to address concerns which may be attributed to workload with a focus on how this can be supported.
It has been suggested to review existing policies and practices to ensure they don’t unintentionally create barriers for female employees, recognising that this is an equality, occupational health and people management issue. For example, do managers take in to account that this is an occupational health issue when reviewing job performance?
Very small changes on a practical level can have a significant impact on the quality of life of women at work experiencing the menopause. In turn, employers will reap the benefits some of these being, lower sickness absence, higher employee engagement and reduced employee turnover.
If you have any queries with regards to the content of this article then please do not hesitate to contact a member of the HPC team:
T: 0151 556 1975