Understanding the need and benefit of menopause support in the workplace
Published 07 March 2023
The announcement of a Labour Party proposal ‘for menopause action plans’ has once again focused the spotlight on a workplace issue employers need to continue to work and improve on.
The plan would enable staff to be able to ask for changes to uniform rules, adjustments to the temperature in the workplace, for more breaks during the working day or flexible hours.
The aim is to support employees going through the menopause to enable them to stay in work and not feel forced to leave the workforce.
Menopause is the natural biological process marking the end of a woman’s reproductive years. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can happen earlier or later.
A report showed that of the 4,000 women, aged 45 to 55, quizzed in compiling it, that one in 10 had left work because of symptoms of the menopause (1 cited 7.3.23). It was said to be the equivalent to 333,000 women if extrapolated across the UK.
If Labour win the election, it would require all employers with 250 employees or more to produce annual Menopause Action Plans detailing how they are supporting their female staff (2 cited 7.3.23) . Employers will be required to:
- Provide training for line managers to be aware of how the menopause can affect working women and understand what adjustments may be necessary to support them;
- Provide flexible working policies that cater for women experiencing the menopause;
- Ensure absence procedures are flexible to accommodate menopause as a long-term fluctuating health condition;
- Carry out risk assessments to consider the specific needs of menopausal women and ensure that their working environment will not make their symptoms worse.
Similar to mental health in previous years gone by, there does seem to be a stigma around the menopause, talking about it and understanding the impact of it.
A UK study did find that a third (33 per cent) of those quizzed who had symptoms said they hid this at work, and 50 per cent felt there was a stigma around talking about the menopause ( 3 cited 7.3.23)
The research, published in 2021, also found that 43 per cent of women who took part in the study and had experienced menopause symptoms, said they had felt too embarrassed to ask for support in the workplace, rising to 63 per cent of women aged 18-44.
And two-thirds (64 per cent) of women agreed there should be more workplace support for women going through menopause.
A poll on the daytime TV show Lorraine asked viewers if women should get paid leave for menopause and 55 per cent said yes and 45 per cent said no (4 cited 7.3.23)
The symptoms of menopause can vary and some of the most common include:
- Hot flushes: thought by many to be the most problematic and commonly recognised symptom is a sudden sensation of heat that may cause sweating and a rapid heartbeat, often accompanied by a feeling of warmth spreading through the body.
- Night sweats: Can cause fatigue and result in a lack of energy and are similar to hot flushes, but occurring at night and can disrupt sleep.
- Mood changes: The menopause can cause mood swings, irritability, and depression.
- Changes in skin and hair: Both skin and hair can become drier and thinner.
The symptoms can inevitably impact on all aspects of life, including work. Everyone going through the menopause will not experience the same symptoms, which can vary, and some may not experience any at all.
Changes in your hormones during menopause can have an effect on both mental and physical health, so it is a health and well-being issue that employers need to consider and handle sensitively.
Every employer, regardless of the size of an organisation, should ensure it has appropriate steps, procedures and support in place to help staff affected by the menopause.
Creating a working environment in which staff feel comfortable to openly discuss the menopause, and in which they feel assured they are being listened to, can help to address any concerns and prevent any problems from escalating.
Research has shown an increase in the number of employment tribunal cases referring to the menopause.
In 2021 there were 23 employment tribunals citing menopause, which is a reported increase of 44 per cent on the 16 cases seen in the previous year (5 cited 7.3.23)
This included 16 tribunals claiming disability discrimination, 14 claiming unfair dismissal and 10 claiming sex discrimination.
And the word ‘menopause’ itself was mentioned 207 times in tribunal documents in 2021, an increase of 75 per cent from the 118 mentions the year before.
It is vital that employers understand how the menopause relates to the law.
The Equality Act 2010 protects workers against discrimination and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 protects the health, safety and welfare of employees at work.
The menopause is not included in the Equality Act as a protected characteristic (6 cited 7.3.23)
However, if an employee or worker is put at a disadvantage and treated less favourably because of their menopause symptoms, it could be discrimination if related to a protected characteristic e.g. age, disability, gender reassignment or sex.
There are some practical and proactive steps all employers can take to support any employee going through the menopause.
ACAS have advised that the starting point for understanding the needs of employees is to create an open and trusted environment in which workers feel confident in talking about their symptoms without fear of judgement or reprisal (7 cited 7.3.23) The very individual experiences of the menopause make this even more crucial. There are a number of proactive actions employers can take, including:
- Developing a menopause policy and/or incorporating it into existing policies to demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to taking the issue seriously, addressing any underlying stigmas associated with it, and highlighting the support available.
- Conducting regular health and safety risk assessments, in line with legislation, to ensure that symptoms are not made worse by the work environment, and that appropriate adjustments are made to help staff manage symptoms.
- Providing training for line managers, for example, on the nature of menopausal symptoms and how work might impact on individuals, and how to handle conversations fairly and sensitively and identify and regularly review necessary support.
- Introducing and training menopause and wellbeing champions to act as a further point of contact and source of advice.
Supporting staff going through menopause can have a range of benefits for any employer, including:
- Improved well-being and job satisfaction: both the physical and emotional symptoms of the menopause can negatively impact on an employee’s job performance and satisfaction. Appropriate support can help to ease such symptoms, reduce stress, and increase job satisfaction.
- Retention of experienced staff: The typical age range (45 to 55) of staff affected by the menopause is when they are most experienced. Providing meaningful support for them can help to retain knowledgeable, skilled and valuable employees. As earlier research cited in this blog showed, a number of employees have quit their jobs because of difficulties they have faced in managing the symptoms of the menopause and working.
- Reduced absenteeism: Providing important work-related support can help to reduce absenteeism and improve productivity.
- Increased diversity and inclusion: Support for employees going through what is a natural biological process can help to promote diversity and inclusion, reduce any stigma and promote a more inclusive culture.
- Positive reputation: Billionaire Sir Richard Branson once said ‘your brand name is only as good as your reputation’ and by demonstrating a commitment to supporting staff going through the menopause, an employer can enhance its reputation as an employer of choice, both among existing staff and potential new recruits.
Overall, supporting staff going through the menopause can bring a range of positive benefits to employers.