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On World Menopause Day (18 October 2023), we're diving into how you can support your team going through the menopause.
According to ONS figures, in October to December 2022, there were 15.66 million women aged 16 and over in the workforce, an increase of over 100,000 on the previous year. Within this, there were around 4.5 million women aged 50-64 employed, in 2022. This highlights two important findings:
- Women make up an increasingly large proportion of the workforce, with an increased number continuing to work until later in life, playing a crucial role in the economy and work force; and
- Many members of the workforce will experience the menopause, whilst working.
The menopause explained
As defined by the NHS, the menopause is ‘when your periods stop due to lower hormone levels. It usually affects women between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can happen earlier’. In addition, individuals may experience menopausal symptoms before their periods stop – this is known as the perimenopause.
In July 2022, the Women and Equalities Committee published a report entitled Menopause and the workplace having conducted research, followed up with recommendations to the Government on how to accommodate and support those going through the menopause whilst continuing work. Of those surveyed for the report, 99% said that they experienced at least one symptom when going through the menopause. The most common of these were:
- ‘Difficulty sleeping’ (81%);
- Problems affecting memory and/or concentration (75%); and
- Hot flushes (73%) and night sweats (73%).
Other symptoms can include changes to mental health including anxiety and mood swings and physical symptoms such as headaches/migraines and changes in body shape and weight gain. Symptoms can be experienced over varying periods of time – for some, this can be over many years.
Of those surveyed, 92% stated that their symptoms ‘affected them at work’ with 72% less able to concentrate and 70% experiencing increased stress. Such statistics assist in highlighting the prevalence of the menopause and the impact that this can have at work.
Menopause and the law
The menopause itself is not categorised as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, meaning that relying on the menopause alone as a basis for discrimination, will not be recognised by an Employment Tribunal. In response to the above report, the Government has declined to include the menopause as a protected characteristic.
That being said, as recognised by ACAS, the menopause can relate to the law in other ways, particularly in reference to the Equality Act 2010, for protection against discrimination based on existing protected characteristics. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is also relevant as it requires, where reasonably practical, employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work.
The protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment and sex, all potentially linked to the menopause, may mean that the individual is afforded protection from discrimination on these grounds. This could be in relation to unfair treatment, such as direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
Support for employees
Perhaps the most important takeaway is the recommendations that employers can implement, in order to support their employees with their experience of the menopause. It is important to recognise that each individual experiences the menopausal period differently and that any advice should be tailored as appropriate:
1. Talking and encouragement
Perhaps the easiest, but arguably one of the most effective, is encouraging productive and supportive conversations surrounding the menopause. Training sessions, information and guidance can be provided to line managers and staff, in order to encourage understanding around the menopause and the impact it can have on colleagues.
2. Dialogue and communication
Employees want to feel heard and understood, especially when the subject matter is something sensitive. It is therefore important that safe spaces where colleagues can open up about their experiences are available in the workplace. Of those surveyed for the above-mentioned report, less than a third of respondents told anyone at work at the time that they were experiencing the menopause – open communication can assist this.
3. Flexible working
The CIPD estimated that one third of women they surveyed had been unable to attend work due to their menopausal symptoms – such occurrences suggest that companies should consider where possible, having flexible or hybrid working arrangements, if this could assist their employees with managing both their symptoms and work.
4. Policy implementation
Consider introducing a menopause policy, or adding clauses relating to the menopause into existing policies, where appropriate. Adopting a strong company stance on the menopause, and demonstrating understanding of what employees may be going through, can help to foster a more positive and supportive work environment.
5. Menopause and well-being champions
As ACAS suggest, having a designated individual in the workplace can help to alleviate any discomfort around discussing the menopause. The person could act as a first port of call when employees need advice, or if they are reluctant to approach their line manager in the first instance. They could also instigate discussion on the menopause and provide training where needed.
Affecting such a large proportion of the population, and therefore the workforce, the menopause is an important and serious topic that deserves proper and thoughtful consideration. It is essential therefore, that employers address this issue, ensuring that employees are treated with the correct sensitivity.