There are many issues that women face at work that are unique to them. We think it is a great time to talk about one such issue that can impact upon all working women all over the world – the menopause in the workplace.
Menopause at work: the reality
Women are working later in life than they did in the past. If we take the typical age that women experience the menopause, more than four million women could be working through this life transition here in the UK – and managing the associated symptoms. For some women, those symptoms can be severe and debilitating. Estimates are that up to 25% of women experience very severe symptoms associated with the menopause.
While the symptoms themselves can vary, there is no doubt that they can have an impact at work. Studies show that some women felt the menopause had negatively affected their job performance; including believing that it had a negative impact on their managers and colleagues’ perceptions of their competence. Managing symptoms in the workplace can also lead to increased levels of stress. Some women are concerned about how they will be perceived if they talk about the menopause. Others opt to hide their symptoms while at work.
The impact of workplace stigma
According to a recent report by the Government Equalities Office, the annual absence related losses alone may equal around £7.3m. So there is no longer any doubt that this is an issue for employers. Employers who take a proactive stance to supporting women through the menopause can ensure that they are able to ask for help and adjustments so that they can continue to be successful in their roles, reduce absenteeism due to menopausal symptoms, and assure women that they a responsible employer committed to supporting their needs during this stage of their lives.
How to facilitate menopause in the workplace
On a practical level, there is much that employers can do. As with any other longstanding health-related condition, sympathetic and appropriate support from managers is crucial in order to provide staff with the support that they need – recognising that this can be a difficult issue to talk about. Each situation is different, and there is no one best way to support women experiencing the menopause at work. Above all, it is important to listen to women and respond sympathetically to any requests for adjustments and support.
Flexible working arrangements for those experience debilitating symptoms can provide significant benefits. For example, where the role permits, allowing staff to work around their symptoms, perhaps by allowing them to rest when they are tired and make the time up later, or permitting occasional homeworking when symptoms are severe. Some women experiencing the menopause in the workplace will find that they have times of the day where symptoms are more or less problematic; start and finish times could be adjusted to take this into account. For example, women with disturbed sleep patterns may find they are more productive with a later start time. So flexibility can include taking breaks, for time to rest or medical appointments.
Employers can also consider providing changing or washing facilities as well as facilitating a comfortable working environment in order to help women manage their body temperature. Make desk fans easily available, and see if ventilation can be improved. Where uniforms are provided, consider natural fibres where possible and provide additional uniforms to change into.
Above all, like with most good staff management, success rests on effective dialogue. Creating the conditions in which people feel that they can raise their problems and reach out for the support that they need. Start by reducing the stigma by talking about it, and issue some manager guidance too.
Written by Gemma Dale
Gemma Dale is an experienced HR Director and CIPD Chartered Fellow. She is a regular speaker and writer on HR topics like employee engagement and social media.