Following the recent Spanish employment law changes surrounding women’s reproductive rights in the workplace, employers worldwide have been forced to take a long hard think about their stance on issues affecting women in the workplace.
Another critical topic coming to the fore in this area is menopause. Menopause at work, from awareness to support and everything in between, is fast becoming an essential agenda item for HR teams in the UK.
Menopause affects a significant percentage of the UK workforce. Currently, approximately 4.5 million women between the ages of 50 and 64 are employed across the nation. Recent research by the CIPD showed that around 3 in 5 menopausal women say their symptoms have hurt their work. In this article, we’ll explore how symptoms can impact work and how organisations can support employees experiencing them.
Table of Contents
Menopause is a natural phase in a woman’s life when she stops menstruating and can no longer conceive. During this transition, the body undergoes hormonal changes that can lead to various symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Mood swings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Concentration problems.
Menopause At Work: How Symptoms Impact Work Performance
Menopause transition symptoms can be challenging for women to manage in their personal lives, let alone at work. Eight out of ten menopausal women are in employment, which means 80% of women battle with symptoms during their working day.
There’s often a lack of awareness about how these symptoms can impact women in the workplace, but each sign can significantly impact the performance of a woman going through menopause.
Let’s take a look at how the menopause can make the workplace challenging for women:
Attention to Detail and Mistakes
The hormonal changes and sleep disturbances during menopause can affect cognitive function and concentration. Women may find it challenging to maintain the same level of attention to detail as before. As a result, menopausal women can make more mistakes and even overlook essential details in their work. Reduced focus and concentration can impact the quality of their output.
Relationship and Communication Issues
Mood swings and irritability during menopause can impact interpersonal dynamics and communication in the workplace. Women may find it more challenging to manage their emotions, leading to potential conflicts or strained relationships with colleagues or clients. Effective communication, crucial for collaboration and teamwork, may become more difficult due to mood fluctuations and irritability.
The fatigue, sleep disturbances, and memory issues associated with menopause can make it harder for women to manage their workload effectively. This makes meeting deadlines much more difficult. Fatigue and lack of energy can also reduce overall efficiency, leading to delays in completing pieces of work.
The combination of various menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, and sleep disturbances, can culminate in lower productivity. Women may experience decreased energy levels, difficulty concentrating, and struggle with maintaining consistent work performance. This can impact their ability to handle multiple tasks, meet targets, and achieve their full potential.
Severe menopausal symptoms can also take an emotional toll on women. Irritability, mood swings, and feelings of sadness or anxiety can impact motivation and engagement in the workplace. Staying focused and maintaining a positive outlook may become more challenging, leading to decreased job satisfaction and lower overall work performance.
How to Support Women Experiencing Menopause in the Workplace
A recent survey found that 10% of working menopausal women have left their jobs because their symptoms have been so debilitating. Organisations can help women navigate this transitional phase by implementing specific measures and policies while supporting their productivity and well-being. Here are several ways to support women experiencing menopause in the workplace:
- Creating a Robust Menopause Policy
Developing and introducing a dedicated menopause policy provides a framework for addressing the specific needs and challenges women may face during this phase. This policy can outline available support, reasonable adjustments, and guidelines for effectively managing symptoms.
- Incorporating Menopause into Relevant Policies
Referencing menopause in relevant organisational policies, such as absence management and employee wellbeing, ensures that the impact of menopausal symptoms is acknowledged and supported accordingly. Including references to menopause sends a clear message that the organisation values and supports menopausal women.
- Cultivating a Supportive Workplace Culture
Creating a culture of openness and understanding is essential for supporting women going through menopause. Encourage open communication and provide employees with a safe and confidential space to discuss their experiences and seek support. They promote empathy, understanding, and respect among colleagues to reduce stigma and create a work environment where individuals feel comfortable discussing menopause.
- Providing Reasonable Adjustments
Offering reasonable adjustments allows women to manage their symptoms effectively while continuing to perform their roles. These adjustments can include flexible working arrangements, temporary changes in responsibilities, access to cooling facilities, or adjusted work schedules. Individualised solutions should be explored to meet each woman’s specific needs.
- Considering Changes to the Company Dress Code
Flexibility in dress code policies can accommodate the physical discomfort that some women may experience due to hot flashes or changes in body temperature regulation. Allowing for lighter clothing or relaxation of specific dress code requirements can help alleviate discomfort and support women’s well-being.
Better yet, make a flexible dress code a universal policy, so women experiencing menopause symptoms won’t feel self-conscious about looking different to others in the workplace.
- Deliver Training and Awareness Sessions
Providing training to line managers and employees on menopause awareness helps to foster understanding and equip individuals with the knowledge to support their colleagues effectively. Training should focus on symptoms, potential impacts on work, communication strategies, and available resources.
Designating well-being champions in the workplace or creating colleague support networks can further enhance understanding and facilitate conversations about menopause in a sensitive and supportive way.
- Resources and Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs)
Ensuring that women have access to resources and support systems is essential. Employee Assistance Programmes can provide confidential counselling and guidance on managing menopausal symptoms, both in and outside the workplace. On top of that, referring menopausal women to occupational health can provide them with access to additional medical support and practical advice.
Sharing information about further resources, such as educational materials, groups like the British Menopause Society (BMS), or wellness initiatives, can further assist women in seeking the help they need.
When managing menopause in the workplace, employers must prioritise confidentiality and respect the privacy of individuals going through menopause. Here are the key ways to ensure confidentiality and protect the privacy of employees:
Confidentiality in Discussions
Encourage open communication about menopause-related matters while emphasising the importance of maintaining confidentiality. Create a safe and trusting environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their experiences without fear of judgment or disclosure to others.
Privacy of Personal Information
Handle any personal information related to menopause with the utmost care and in compliance with data protection regulations. Ensure that any data collected during discussions or assessments are treated as confidential and stored securely.
Respect the individual preferences of employees regarding disclosure of their menopause status. Some employees may feel comfortable discussing their experiences openly, while others prefer to keep it private. Allow individuals to make their own decisions about sharing their personal information and ensure that no one feels compelled to disclose more than they are comfortable with.
As well as general raising awareness training for line managers and employees, organisations could also provide training to help individuals understand the importance of confidentiality and privacy. Help them understand the importance of maintaining confidentiality and respecting individual boundaries when discussing menopause-related matters.
Incorporate clear guidelines in workplace policies regarding the confidentiality of menopause-related discussions. Having a clear step-by-step guide that outlines expectations for all employees will help every person within the organisation understand the need to respect privacy and maintain confidentiality. These guidelines should be communicated and reinforced regularly to ensure awareness and compliance.
Laws Around Menopause at Work
Supporting women experiencing menopause in the workplace is a matter of empathy and good practice and a legal requirement in the UK. Here’s what the UK law says about supporting women experiencing menopause:
- Menopause and Employment Law
In the UK, menopause is protected under the Equality Act 2010. This legislation prohibits direct or indirect discrimination, harassment, or victimisation based on various protected characteristics, including sex. As menopause is a gender-specific experience, women going through this transition are entitled to protection against unfair treatment in the workplace. Otherwise, employers might find themselves at the end of discrimination claims.
- Obligation to Provide Adjustments
Employers are legally obligated to make reasonable adjustments to support women experiencing menopause. Reasonable adjustments are changes to the working environment or conditions that enable women to manage their symptoms and continue performing their job effectively. These adjustments should be tailored to individual needs.
Employers are expected to engage in an open and constructive dialogue with women to identify appropriate adjustments and provide support.
- Health and Safety Considerations
Employers are also responsible for ensuring their employees’ health, safety, and welfare. This includes managing risks associated with menopause symptoms that may impact work. Employers should assess and address potential hazards such as increased fatigue, concentration difficulties, or the impact of certain medications on job performance.
- Documentation and Policies
To ensure compliance with the law and promote transparency, employers should have written policies in place that address menopause-related support and reasonable adjustments. These policies should outline the procedures for requesting adjustments, the support available, and the steps taken to maintain confidentiality.
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