April 15, 2019

Employers Urged to “Normalise Conversations” about the Menopause

If mental health issues are a taboo subject in your workplace, it’s more or less guaranteed that talking about the problems a woman can have whilst going through the menopause is far higher on the scale of stigma and taboo.

recent survey carried out by the BBC found that 70% of women would not tell their employer about their symptoms.

There are more women than ever over the age of 50 in employment (around 4.4 million). Consequently this topic is something that should be on everyone’s agenda.

So how does the menopause affect women?

Most women will experience the menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. However, there could be medical reasons why a woman may need to have her ovaries removed at an earlier age, resulting in an early menopause.

It’s fair to say that some women sail through the menopause with practically no symptoms and with no effect on their job.

However, most women will experience some or all of the symptoms associated with the menopause. Common symptoms include headaches, hot flushes, anxiety and/or depression, mood changes and night sweats resulting in a lack of sleep and causing fatigue during the day. These symptoms can vary in severity, as with any other long-term health condition.

And for those women who suffer with such symptoms life in general, and especially work life, can become very difficult. The BBC survey found that around 50% of women said that it affected their mental health with the feelings that their life was falling apart. They couldn’t concentrate and couldn’t explain their sudden lack of confidence in their ability to do their job. 25% of the women surveyed said that their symptoms made them just want to stay at home.

The stigma of the menopause

Because there is such a stigma and taboo around talking about such personal things, almost three-quarters of the women surveyed said that they felt they couldn’t tell their manager about their symptoms. This was because their manager was a lot younger than them (a very common answer). Other reasons included being afraid that if they said anything they would be thought of as malingering or making excuses. Respondents were worried about receiving the usual comments such as ‘it’s just your age!’ or ‘it’s just a hot flush!’

What can you do as an employer?

Research has shown that by taking the menopause seriously and talking about it with those affected, there’s a much better chance of keeping sickness absence to a minimum. It will also  help employees to maintain their commitment rather than potentially feeling like they want to give up work completely.

It shouldn’t be an embarrassing topic. Quite often a couple of simple changes to the working environment (e.g. providing a fan) can make a great deal of difference. In many cases, just being able to talk about it openly may reduce some of the symptoms such as anxiety.

Know your team and have regular one-to-ones. This will build a certain amount of trust and hopefully create an environment where your employees can speak openly to you. You will also be able to notice when someone isn’t working in the same way as they normally do. Confidentiality is key as your employee may not want everyone to know that they have a problem.

Offer support in the same way as you would in any other health situation. Don’t make any assumptions about how someone is feeling. If you want to know how they are, then ask them if they’re okay. A genuine enquiry of this kind can go a long way to building the working relationship.

You have a duty to ensure that your working environment is suitable. You can carry out a risk assessment to see if there is anything you can do by way of a reasonable adjustment to assist them in being able to continue performing their role. Sometimes a temporary adjustment to someone’s work duties can work wonders. If someone is having hot flushes, perhaps the offer of drinking water may help.

Remember, it’s not a case of ‘one size fits all’. Everyone is different and what was helpful to one person may not be helpful to someone else. Unless you talk about it, you’re not going to know.

Next Steps

Moorepay customers who would like advice on supporting employees who are experiencing symptoms of the menopause should contact the advice line on 0845 073 0240.

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About the author

Elaine Pritchard

Elaine has a wealth of knowledge in producing contracts, training materials and other documentation as well as training other consultants. She piloted a scheme whereby she went on-site to act as a client’s HR Manager two days per week, whilst the post-holder was on maternity leave. Elaine also previously ran her own retail business for seven years, employing four people. Elaine is a field based consultant for Moorepay and provides on-site HR and Employment Law advice, consultancy and training services to our clients.