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Nicola Jagielski at Health Assured outlines what employers can do to support women employees going through the menopause.
The menopause has long been seen as one of those areas that are not to be talked about. With the nickname ‘the change’ being used more commonly than the medical definition, it is perhaps not surprising that menopause is not often discussed or supported in the workplace. According to new research by the CIPD, 59% of working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are have experienced menopause systems said it has had a negative impact on them at work.
Commonly affecting female employees at any time after they reach their mid-40s, most workplaces will have at least one employee who is going through or has undergone the menopause. It is critical that managers understand how this affects their employees as the symptoms of menopause are wide-ranging and can have a real impact on health. Physical symptoms can include hot flushes, fatigue, insomnia and headaches. Less recognised, however, is that the menopause can also cause negative mental health symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety and depression. Trivialising these symptoms as a ‘women’s problem’ can lead to a significant lack of support at a time when employees need this.
Employees suffering from severe symptoms should not be placed in a position where they feel they have to attend work or be disciplined. Whilst sick leave needs managing to ensure it is not getting out of hand, absence rules should not be so strict that an employee does not take leave when their physical or mental health is suffering. During a return to work interview, encouraging the employee to identify the real reason for their absence can highlight that they are suffering from menopause symptoms. This will then allow managers to discuss whether there is any workplace support that can be put in place or if they have received any medical advice on whether any adjustments will help alleviate their symptoms.
Supporting workers going through the menopause may not require any particularly onerous steps to be carried out and can involve, in reality, simple changes that are suitable for each employee’s circumstances. These can include providing the ability to control temperature in the work environment, allowing access to separate or accessible toilet facilities, avoiding tasks such as heavy lifting where employees are fatigued and allowing uniform alternatives. Offering flexibility around rest breaks or making changes to working arrangements may also provide employees with support where their symptoms are worse at a particular time or cause a greater detriment, for example, where fatigue affects their ability to start work early.
It is key that managers feel comfortable talking about sensitive matters such as these with their teams. As training on areas such as mental health and harassment has increased, this should also be made available on health issues that can affect employees including the menopause. Training can include how to feel comfortable when carrying out these conversations and avoiding trivialising or undermining individual employees. Small steps such as providing leaflets, holding awareness sessions or ensuring employee guidance signposts employees to external support helps signify that the employer is a positive and supportive one for employees of all ages.