New workplace standards for menopause and menstruation support are launched
Thanks to recent media attention, such as Channel 4’s Davina McCall: Sex, Mind and the Menopause, there’s now increased awareness of the effects of the menopause. However, despite the menopause discussion growing louder, many women still feel reluctant to talk about their symptoms in the workplace.
Recent research from Peppy showed that just 22% of workers have spoken about menopause at work and sadly research from the Fawcett Society suggested about 10% of those experiencing menopause have left the workplace due to symptoms such as hot flushes, ‘’brain fog’’, anxiety, low mood, dizziness, insomnia, and muscle and joint stiffness. The survey of more than 4,000 UK women aged 45-55, who are currently or have previously experienced the perimenopause or the menopause, also found that 14% of women had reduced their hours at work, 14% had gone part-time, and 8% had not applied for promotion.
In a study of 500 people, Peppy revealed that over 78% of people had experienced brain fog as an effect of menopause. This means that brain fog – and the forgetfulness, self-doubt and imposter syndrome that may come with it also presents issues that the workplace must take seriously.
There is no one-size-fits-all experience of menopause, but the data suggests thousands of women are leaving the workforce, contributing to significant productivity losses, robbing organisations of talented people, and removing mentors who can draw on their experience to support newer members of staff.
What’s more the symptoms of menopause are not just limited to a short period of people’s lives. They can begin months, or even years, before periods stop, known as the perimenopause – which typically starts in a woman’s forties and persist for an average of four years or more.
What can employers do to support women affected by the menopause?
Over the past few years, there has been a surge of companies drawing up specific menopause policies and offering menopause support, this is positive, but more can be done to raise awareness, break down stigma and encourage open conversations that not only support women, but also ensure the male workforce are educated and empowered too. Having a culture of openness and inclusivity, where all employees feel they can talk about and seek support for their physical and mental health can go a long way.
Starting a conversation around menopause can be challenging, which is why company-wide training and education is important.
However even if line managers haven’t received training there are some basic steps that they can take, the best first step is to ask how the employee is and what they need – whether that’s more breaks, more time before meetings, flexible working or someone to talk to and crucially understand the pathway of support.
Line managers should familiarise themselves with signs of the menopause to help them spot when someone may be struggling. If an employee’s behaviour seems different, for example they are missing deadlines, it’s good to check in.
One major obstacle for people experiencing menopausal symptoms is a general lack of awareness. Many don’t recognise the signs, think there’s something seriously wrong, or don’t know where to turn for help.
This is where specialist menopause and mental wellbeing support can be invaluable. As well as confidential, expert advice, organisations should give employees access to trusted resources so they can access the latest news and information, without having to fall down a rabbit hole on Google.
This might include advice on HRT, which is proven to help with menopausal symptoms, as well as tips on improving stress, diet, and sleep, which can also help ease memory and concentration problems.
Educating yourself on how you can support employees.
The British Standards Institute (BSI) has published a new workplace standard titled ‘BS 30416, Menstruation, menstrual health and menopause in the workplace‘, it recognises the challenges, symptoms and experiences of both menopause and menstrual health and how these can affect women in the workplace.
It has been developed with the help of companies including supermarket chain Morrisons and telecoms firm BT, Unison, the LGBT Foundation, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, the Daisy Network and Endometriosis UK have also contributed to the guidance.
BS 30416 is a free, practical toolkit for businesses of all sizes and sectors. Developed by experts in the field of menstruation, menopause, HR and occupational health and academics, this document aims to help organizations identify the misconceptions around menstruation and menopause. It also identifies the impact of stigma surrounding these topics on workplace cultures and support.
The standard helps businesses to take action to make their workplace more inclusive. It contains examples of actions and adjustments that can be taken to improve employees’ wellbeing. Examples of these include:
- Physical aspects of work
- Policy guidance and practices
- Supportive workplace cultures
- Work design
- Evaluation and metrics
There are also practical annexes with checklists and tools to use such as:
- Tips for having confidential conversations
- Conversation topics and potential workplace adjustments based on symptoms
- Team management considerations
- Ideas for facilitating culture change
- Training considerations
- Further reading
The BS 30416 is a good starting point for educating yourself on how you can support employees at this critical time. The guidance is especially useful to individuals within organisations who are responsible for managing employee workload, wellbeing, or the work environment.