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Menopause - the hidden change

It was World Menopause Day on the 18th October. If you’re thinking ‘so what?’, then read on. Both employers and employees know that work-life balance is far from a simple separation of job time and private time. The reality is far more nuanced, based on the obvious fact that people do not ‘switch off’ their private lives when they punch in at the office/factory/shop/theme park/etc. Just as an individual’s job impacts on their personal and family life, so their personal ‘life events’ (house moves, relationships, illness, bereavement…) can impact on work. An employer that acknowledges that fact and offers reasonable support to employees going through an ‘event’ knows that, not only are they being a good employer, but they’re enabling the individual to ultimately contribute more as an employee. One such life event that doesn’t get talked about so much, is the menopause.

Menopause in the UK workplace

Symptoms of menopause can include disrupted sleep, hot flashes, chills, lack of energy, mood changes, headaches, stress, panic attacks and anxiety and mostly affect women aged 45-55*, a fast-growing demographic in the UK workforce. According to the CIPD, 30% of women in this age bracket have been unable to go to work due to menopause symptoms, and 59% cited the symptoms’ negative impact on their work. Most worryingly, 75% of those off work due to menopause felt unable to admit to the reason for their absence.

This embarrassment around talking about menopause means symptoms can have a worse impact on work. The reasonable adjustments that employers need to make are relatively slight and can make the difference between an employee working productively (from home, perhaps) and an employee off ‘sick’.

Furthermore, as menopause generally affects a specific gender and age group, the risks of not addressing menopause in the workplace include potential discrimination on grounds of sex or age.

*Though up to 5% of women may experience early symptoms of menopause.

What should employers do?

To coincide with World Menopause Day this year, ACAS published guidance for employers, outlining responsibilities, risks and potential actions, including:

  • Drawing up a menopause policy.
  • Awareness training for managers around what the menopause is and how to appropriately support employees through it.
  • Introducing a culture of openness within teams.
  • Changing working hours (a later start, for example, can help with changed sleep patterns).
  • Allowing home or remote working
  • Buying office equipment (a desk fan can make a big difference).
  • Understanding the potential risk of discrimination and legal consequences.

Too often, due to ignorance on the employer’s side and embarrassment on the employee’s, the menopause is effectively a taboo subject in the workplace. Maybe before the above kinds of practical support are offered, the focus should be on just being able to have a conversation about menopause and work; a manager and worker just talking about what the impact on work really is in their specific circumstances and working conditions.


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