Updated: Nov 21, 2021
The government has urged organisations to do more to create menopause-friendly workplaces to help female employees going through the menopause. This recommendation, and a number of recommendations for employers to consider, comes on the back of a government-funded report which found that UK organisations are not providing the support to workers undergoing the menopause.
An enquiry by the Women and Equalities Committee, which was open between July and September 2021 was tasked with scrutinising the current legal protection and workplace practices available to women going through the menopause. This is part of a government commitment to conduct research into “what works to improve women’s reproductive health, across their life…” and “develop indicators relating to women’s health experience and impact on their work”.
The first ever Women's Health Strategy is also being developed, and it has recently been announced that a new cross-government Menopause Taskforce will be established. This taskforce will look at the role education and training, workplace policies and peer groups for menopausal women can play in supporting women though this challenging time.
Women in the workforce
The workforce is made up of more women than ever before, and the largest increase in employment is in the age group of women of 50 and over. This is important, as it means more organisations are required to manage menopausal employees. The report, however, confirms that menopause is not well understood or catered for in the workplace, and suggests organisations should invoke a cultural change to ensure they are able to provide a high quality of working life for female staff.
The menopause is a natural part of ageing that causes different physical and emotional symptoms in each individual, from hot flushes, headaches and depression to fatigue and sleep loss. Transitionary symptoms can negatively affect women at work with organisations experiencing a loss in productivity or an increase in absenteeism from staff undergoing the menopause. The report discovered that many employees feel they have to cope with their symptoms alone and are reluctant to inform their manager because it is a deeply personal issue. In addition, many women reported they did not want to be seen as being affected by the menopause at work.
Considerations for employers
According to research by the Wellbeing of Women group, 900,000 women have had to leave their jobs due to the effect of menopause symptoms, such as anxiety, poor concentration and irregular and heavy bleeding.
The menopause is a sensitive and private issue that can only be supported where the organisation has knowledge of this. Female employees’ reluctance to raise personal and health issues with their manager may be addressed by changing the culture of the workplace. Ensuring managers are trained to hold personal discussions and will respond in a supportive, sensitive and constructive manner can help to create this culture.
Alternatively, some organisations may wish to allocate a particular manager (or HR contact) for employees to raise any personal matters. Providing medical or counselling support as an employee benefit is another indication that the employees’ personal life is supported by their employer, and these will allow employees to seek confidential medical advice or treatment for their symptoms.
The report also touches on the considerations that organisations can take to support menopausal staff. These include:
allowing staff access to desk fans, providing good ventilation in the workplace and giving women the temperature controls for air conditioning or heating systems;
keeping clean and well equipped toilet facilities;
providing cold drinking water;
providing lighter, non-synthetic uniforms or clothing that women can choose to wear, as necessary;
creating a quiet resting or break area or taking steps to reduce women’s exposure to noise to alleviate symptoms of fatigue.
A further consideration for organisations is to positively and proactively approach flexible working requests to ensure working patterns are organised in a way which reduces the negative effect of menopause-related sleep loss or fatigue.
Caroline Nokes, MP and chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee made the benefits of such steps clear by pointing out that this effects women near or at the peak of their careers, and failing to manage it effectively means the loss of senior talent, and important role models for your workers.
There are risks for employers of ignoring menopause in the workplace, such as claims for disability discrimination. Figures recently published in the Guardian show that: in 2018, there were only five Employment Tribunal (ET) claims that referenced menopause; but by 2020, this had risen to 16. Experts attribute this rise in part to a female workforce that is ever more conscious of its employment law rights. Several ETs have been required to determine whether or not the menopause constitutes a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. In the recent case of Donnachie v Telent Technology Services Ltd, the Employment Judge concluded that the Claimant’s menopausal symptoms did amount to a disability. However, there have been cases that have been decided the other way and this demonstrates that a finding of disability related to the menopause is fact-sensitive and will be a question of degree and severity. However, it is unlikely that menopausal symptoms will automatically amount to a disability in every instance. What can my organisation do?
The ‘Menopause Workplace Pledge’ campaign was launched in October 2021, asking employers to take positive steps in offering employee’s support. The pledge shows a commitment by employers to:
recognise that the menopause can be an issue in the workplace and women need support;
talk openly, positively, and respectfully about the menopause;
actively support and inform employees affected by the menopause;
raising awareness amongst all staff of the impact of menopausal symptoms will also help (e.g. many younger or male members of staff are likely to be less conscious of the issues).
PWC encourages employers to consider how best to support woman, by engaging women and asking what they want and need. The clear message is that designing policies in isolation of the staff who will benefit from them is not how this issue is going to be tackled
Taking pro-active steps now, rather than waiting to see what legislative steps are going to be taken, is a move many employers are taking. This includes putting in place a range of measures to support female colleagues.
Alongside the support above employers may wish to introduce a specific policy on this issue; outlining any special arrangements and workplace support on offer. This will support those suffering with symptoms and help to foster an inclusive atmosphere. A model Menopause Policy is available to retained clients, on request.
Please contact me if you would like more details.