October marks World Menopause Month. Menopause can cause a wide range of debilitating symptoms that affect work and relationships, and the low hormone levels resulting from menopause can also lead to long-term medical issues such as heart disease, diabetes and dementia. With women over 50 being one of the fastest-growing groups in the workforce, organisations are increasingly likely to have employees who are affected by menopause. Being able to have conversations around treatment, support and adjustments is crucial for ensuring their well-being, engagement and productivity.
The stigma around menopause in the workplace
The stigma around menopause and a general lack of understanding can make it difficult for people who are going through menopause to recognise their symptoms or speak about them openly. It can also be hard for managers and colleagues to effectively and sensitively approach the issue and offer support.
What is menopause?
Menopause is a natural biological process, but it can also occur as a result of certain medical treatments, such as chemotherapy or surgical operations to remove the womb or ovaries, which can lead to what is known as surgical menopause. The perimenopause, or menopause transition, begins several years before menopause and is the time when the ovaries gradually start making less of the hormone oestrogen. People going through perimenopause can experience a range of symptoms and menstrual irregularities. Some of these symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, trouble sleeping, anxiety, poor concentration and irritability. Those experiencing menopause also have an increased risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and dementia.
Key definitions around menopause
Perimenopause – The time leading up to menopause when oestrogen hormone levels start to reduce
Menopause – When someone stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally
Postmenopause – The period of time after going through the menopause
Who is affected by menopause?
While menopause most commonly affects women between the ages of 45 and 55, some people go through menopause earlier and one in 1000 women goes through menopause before they are 30. Perimenopause, which can begin when women are in their 30s, may present similar symptoms to menopause. Menopause can also affect transgender people. Anyone who has a female reproductive system and hasn’t had their ovaries or womb removed is likely to go through menopause eventually. If an individual has their female reproductive organs removed as part of gender reassignment surgery, they will probably go into surgical menopause at that point.
Is there a government policy on menopause in the workplace?
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers can be taken to an employment tribunal over age, sex or even disability discrimination if they fail to effectively take into account the potential impact of menopausal symptoms.
Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, someone going through menopause may be given leave if they show symptoms caused by the menopause, such as anxiety and depression, joint pains and sleeplessness, although in some cases enabling the employee to work flexibly may be enough to help them manage their symptoms. Individuals experiencing difficulty when going through menopause can present their employer with a letter from their doctor.
How to support people at work going through menopause
It’s important to raise awareness of what menopause can involve and the impact it can have on people. Managers should be equipped with the information and tools they need to support their staff. While menopause itself is not a disability, severe symptoms may constitute a disability if they have a long-term and substantial adverse effect on someone’s normal day-to-day activities. There are many adjustments organisations can make to support their staff who are going through menopause.
“Much as we talk about gender, much as we talk about disability and much as we talk about mental health, we need to keep it on the agenda because it is an issue that is impacting on thousands and thousands of women in many workplaces every day.”
Natasha Broomfield-Reid – Founder and Director, Diverse Matters
Reasonable adjustments in the workplace to support people going through menopause
- Considering requests for changes to working arrangements, such as flexible hours or home working.
- Providing training for leaders and staff on how to support colleagues going through menopause.
- Making adjustments to the physical working environment to help alleviate key menopause symptoms, such as providing desk fans, installing blinds or providing easy access to fresh air or water.
- Conducting risk assessments to consider the specific needs of menopausal employees, for example around the heating and ventilation of premises and the provision of toilet and washroom facilities.
- Setting up dedicated groups and online forums where people going through menopause can discuss issues and support each other.
- Giving employees access to appropriate medical advice and treatment, and referring them to occupational health where appropriate.
- Encouraging staff to look after their health, for example by promoting regular exercise and healthy eating.
What should be in a menopause at work policy?
It’s a good idea to have a specific menopause at work policy or to incorporate menopause into existing policies around absence and sickness, well-being, or diversity and inclusion. Such a policy should include:
- A definition of menopause and explanation of key symptoms
- Requirements for legal compliance
- Reasonable adjustments that managers can make
- A commitment to training and raising awareness around menopause
- Signposting to reputable sources of information and advice
Skill Boosters’ film-based menopause at work course
Skill Boosters’ thought-provoking course looks at the common symptoms and long-term effects of menopause and sets out key steps for organisations to take in raising awareness and supporting staff.
This course will give a better understanding of:
- The different stages and symptoms of the menopause
- How symptoms can impact work and relationships
- Long-term postmenopause health risks
- Treatments and lifestyle changes that can help to alleviate menopause and perimenopause symptoms
- Reasonable adjustments in the workplace to support people going through menopause and perimenopause