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Menopause and the Workplace
There is a larger number of women aged 45+ in work than ever before. However, the word ‘menopause’ is probably not a word you’ve heard at work. There are reports in the news that women are struggling to talk about their symptoms and that they feel employers/colleagues are uncomfortable listening to women talk about their difficulties dealing with the menopause.
What exactly is the menopause?
Symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and difficulty sleeping typically come to mind for those of us who haven’t experienced the menopause first hand or know somebody who has gone through it. What you don’t probably know is that the above symptoms can also come along with bouts of depression, anxiety and decreased memory and concentration and that symptoms usually last around 4 years, though for some women they can last much longer.
Worrying at Work
Menopausal symptoms can interfere with a woman’s working life. Imagine having a hot flush in the middle of an important meeting and then getting anxious about having to excuse yourself? Increased tiredness as a result of sleep disturbance may also mean that menopausal women are coming into work late or taking increased sickness absence. It’s not surprising that women often experience embarrassment/reduced confidence in the workplace.
Some women may also start to fell less valuable to their employers as a result of menopausal issues interfering with work, which may in certain circumstances lead to reduced capability and productivity. Some women may eventually choose to reduce working hours or even leave employment altogether, especially where their employer is doing little to support them.
Managing the Menopause
As an employer, you should be acknowledging your health, safety and welfare responsibilities to all your employees, including menopausal women. Recognising that women may require additional support at work may mean that you get to retain that dedicated female employee, who might otherwise have left without your support.
What can you do to help? First and foremost – TALK ABOUT IT! Create open, but confidential, communication channels for women to discuss problems or concerns at work related to the menopause. Encourage communication about symptoms, especially where menopausal women are managed by younger/male employees. Ensure that all employees have an understanding of what the menopause is and how it affects work so that they can identify and solve any related issues with confidence.
You should be thinking about what occupational practices you could introduce to support women suffering from symptoms of the menopause. Have you thought about the following?
- Could you introduce flexible working/later start times to combat issues caused by sleep disturbance?
- Have you reviewed sickness absence procedures to ensure that they are flexible enough to cater for menopause-related sickness absence?
- What does the working environment look like? Is there access to cold water, restrooms, private space, ventilation, suitable uniform etc.?
- Can you provide technology to assist with reminders?
- Being mindful to whether symptoms are affecting capability at work (in particular performance and/or attendance).
- Where appropriate, you could instruct occupational health specialists to help identify any other reasonable adjustments that could be made – after all, women will experience the menopause differently.
Given that the menopause mostly affects women of a certain age you should ensure that there are no provisions, criteria or practices which might adversely affect women of menopausal age, to avoid any claims of sex and/or age discrimination.
An example might be an employer imposing a uniform policy (and refusing any requests to wear different attire) where the uniform is unsuitable because, when a menopausal employee is having a hot flush, the uniform reveals sweat patches easily or becomes transparent. If the employer refuses to make changes to the uniform this could amount to age and/or sex discrimination.
You should be alert to any problems that may arise for menopausal working-women and you should be taking steps to make adjustments in the workplace, just as you would for any other employee struggling with their health.
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