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Menopause at work: it’s prime time to break the taboo

World Menopause Day is held every year on the 18th of October, with its purpose being to raise awareness of the menopause, and the support options available to improve health and wellbeing.

So what is menopause?

It’s a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age.

All women will be affected differently, but the main symptoms are:

  • insomnia and night sweats
  • mood swings
  • feeling anxious and panic attacks
  • hot flushes
  • struggling to remember things, concentrate and focus
  • irregular periods which can become heavier
  • aches and pains including muscle and joint stiffness
  • urinary problems
  • headaches including migraines

How will the menopause impact your employees?

With the population living longer (1 out of 3 British workers are over 50) and with more women working than ever before, there is no doubt that the menopause will affect a considerable amount of your employees.

The symptoms are varied and the impact of menopause on staff will differ from one person to the next. Loss of sleep, for example, can reduce an individual’s ability to concentrate and stay focused. Heavy periods can be both very painful and can make moving around difficult and stressful. Hot flushes will raise an individual’s temperature, and can induce headaches and dizziness. Irritability and mood swings can be distressing and could affect a female employees relationships with her colleagues as well as impacting day to day work.  Because sadly, there is still such a stigma around the whole subject of menopause, employees going through are not only very likely to do so in silence will be prone to feeling embarrassed and isolated, with there being significant evidence of the onset of menopause leading to the development or exacerbation of mental health issues.

Suffering from the wide range of potential menopause symptoms might mean that your female employees experiencing it are forced to take sick leave more frequently. Indeed, it is estimated that 14 million working days are lost to the menopause each year in the UK. If you do nothing to support this issue in your workplace, those absences could prove costly to your business. Given that very severe symptoms may render women incapable of working, lack of proactivity around this issue could mean losing some of your best and most experienced people and having to recruit and train new staff.

Do you have any legal responsibilities toward staff going through the menopause?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees by conducting risk assessments which should include any specific risks to menopausal women.

Even though menopause is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, judges have found that women undergoing menopause could have a claim under sex and/or age discrimination or even disability discrimination is some severe cases.  To reduce risk to your business, aside from doing what is right for your employees, it is vital that you ensure that your employees are not being “less favourably treated”, and in some cases, they might be entitled to reasonable adjustments being made to accommodate their condition.

So how can you better support employees going through menopause?

Pregnancy, its effect on women’s bodies and hormones are commonplace topics in HR policy and equality legislation, but the same is unfortunately not true of the menopause.

Breaking stigma around issues like the menopause and mental health is the only way to start  conversations which will allow people of all ages to achieve their true potential at work. A study conducted by the former Business Champion Dr Rose Altmann (2015) showed that 67% of employees going through menopause did not want to share it with their employers for fear that they would be seen as “too old to do the job”, and because they felt that unconscious bias might result in their careers being disadvantaged in some way. That is a very sad statistic, that your business could and should think hard about doing something about.

Proactive steps can your business take:

  • Change your culture: train your managers and colleagues on what menopause is and how it can affect staff.
  • Have a Menopause policy in your employee oHandbook where you highlight your support for staff going through menopause.
  • Allow flexible working patterns and adequate rest breaks for staff suffering from menopause.
  • Make sure staff going through menopause have easy access to appropriate toilet facilities.
  • Give access to staff undergoing menopause to ventilation and suitable uniforms.

If a free consultation around any of the issues raised here or about any aspect of HR and employment law impacting your business would help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at https://lexleyton.co.uk/free-consultation/ .

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