World Menopause Day (18 October 2022) is a good time for employers to reflect on what initiatives they have in place to support affected staff. Menopause is a natural process which affects a significant proportion of the workforce, yet it remains a taboo subject in many workplaces. Below, we have suggested some steps that HR could take to help tackle the stigma that has long surrounded this issue and help retain key talent.
1. Develop a menopause policy and keep it under regular review
Menopause is a stage of life during which a person stops having periods and experiences hormonal changes such as a decrease in oestrogen levels. Generally, this begins between the ages of 45 and 55. Everyone experiences the menopause differently and symptoms can fluctuate, but there are certain common symptoms which can have a significant impact on employees’ health (for example, problems with concentration and memory, fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint pains, urinary symptoms, hot flashes, mood changes and sleep disturbances). Menopause may also exacerbate existing impairments and ongoing medical conditions that those affected may already be struggling to cope with.
One key way that an employer can demonstrate its commitment to supporting staff who are affected by the menopause is to put in place a menopause policy. Typically, this will explain to staff what the menopause is and how it affects different people, as well as signpost to sources of support. The policy can: tell staff who they should contact if they have menopause-related queries (including if they would benefit from adjustments to working conditions); address issues such as health and safety and discrimination law; and outline the training that will be provided to managers and other staff about the menopause (see points 2 and 3 below).
We have included details at the end of this e-alert of how you can obtain a copy of Make UK’s template menopause policy. As with other HR policies, your menopause policy should be shared across your whole organisation and kept under regular review.
2. Encourage inclusivity and raise general awareness by providing menopause training for all staff
By taking a proactive approach and providing general awareness training to the entire workforce, employers can encourage open, compassionate and respectful conversations about the menopause between colleagues (including with line managers) and tackle the taboo which has historically existed around menopause-related issues at work. This can help pave the way towards an inclusive and supportive culture. Please contact [email protected] if you would like to discuss this further.
Consider too whether any of your current working practices might be inadvertently creating difficulties for staff members who are affected by the menopause. For example, is your workplace properly ventilated and is your uniform made from synthetic or restrictive fabric which could exacerbate menopause-related symptoms (such as hot flushes)?
3. Promote good people management by thoroughly training your managers
Good people management is vital to supporting employees who are affected by the menopause. According to a recent Parliamentary report, only 22% of women and trans men currently experiencing the menopause disclose this at work, with half saying it made them less likely to go for a promotion and a quarter saying they would consider leaving their roles before retirement.
Lack of support in the workplace can heighten the impact of menopause symptoms for employees and lead people to take more time off sick, reduce their hours or, in some cases, leave the workplace completely. This not only increases costs for employers (for example, by increasing sick pay and temporary cover costs), but also means that employers may lose experienced and talented staff who could be difficult to replace.
It is critical therefore that managers receive thorough training, for example on:
- the different stages of the menopause and how it can affect staff (including knowing what adjustments might be appropriate to support staff who are experiencing particular symptoms);
- what external and internal support resources are available (such as occupational health and any employee assistance programme);
- how to talk and listen sensitively to staff about the menopause (both to normalise the topic, and to have respectful conversations with specific employees about the menopause and any support they may need);
- how to take a proactive and positive approach to performance issues where an individual is experiencing difficulties due to menopause related symptoms;
- relevant aspects of the law (such as the Equality Act 2010, which protect workers from discrimination at work, and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which requires employers (where reasonably practical) to protect their employees’ health, safety and welfare at work). Although menopause is not currently a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, depending on the circumstances, employees experiencing the menopause may be able to bring discrimination claims relying on the protected characteristics of age, sex and/or disability; and
- how to ensure that any incidents of harassment, bullying or discrimination related to the menopause are promptly and properly dealt with in accordance with the company’s Anti-bullying and Harassment, Grievance and/or Disciplinary Policies.
Managers should be reminded that people experience the menopause in different ways. It is important therefore that they do not make assumptions but take the lead from affected individuals as to the types of support they might need. ACAS guidance on Menopause at work notes that individual conversations with staff affected by the menopause should always be confidential and held in private where both the manager and staff member are comfortable and will not be disturbed.
4. Show your commitment to supporting those affected by the menopause, for example by signing up to the Menopause Workplace Pledge and supporting World Menopause Day
The Menopause Workplace Pledge is a high-profile campaign led by Wellbeing of Women which has been signed by over 1000 employers (see Menopause Workplace Pledge - Wellbeing Of Women). According to Wellbeing of Women, almost one million women in the UK have left their jobs due to the menopause. Signing up to this Pledge, as well actively supporting initiatives like World Menopause Day, sends a clear message to staff members who are affected by the menopause that you take this issue seriously and value them as employees.
5. Remember the broad impact of the menopause
It is important to keep in mind that the menopause doesn’t just affect cisgender women – it can affect people who have a menstrual cycle but who do not identify as female. We recommend using inclusive and gender-neutral language in communications relating to the menopause, so that everyone feels comfortable accessing any support they need.
Remember too that menopause is not just an issue for those with symptoms. Employees who are not going through menopause themselves may still be affected by it (for example, the menopause may have an impact on those supporting someone else going through it, for example a relative, partner, colleague or carer).
Benefits to employers of putting in place a menopause initiative
By providing proper support for staff who are affected by the menopause, employers can help to reduce legal risk, as well as increase staff retention, improve gender equality in senior roles, reduce recruitment and sickness absence related costs and improve productivity. They can also boost employee engagement and ensure a more diverse workforce (including potentially helping to close the organisation’s gender pay gap by removing barriers to progression for women).
How we can help
If you are a Make UK subscriber, you can speak to your regular adviser for guidance on supporting staff who are affected by the menopause. You can also download a copy of the Make UK template Menopause Policy from the My Resources section of the Make UK website. Please contact [email protected] for further information (including details of training we can provide to staff, and specifically managers, to increase awareness about the menopause).
If you are not a Make UK subscriber, our expert HR and legal advisers can offer guidance on a consultancy basis. For further information, contact us on 0808 168 5874 or email [email protected].