My local yoga studio is this weekend hosting a Menopause Workshop. The focus will be on exploring how yoga can calm the nervous system to help women feel better-rested, less overwhelmed and more in control as a result of fluctuating hormones. It is set to be a positive and informative session, built around eastern perspectives that refer to the menopause as the ‘Second Spring’ and part of the natural cycles of life.
The menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her periods stop as a result of the loss of ovarian reproductive function. It usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, with the average age of the menopause in the UK being 51.
The most common menopause symptoms of hot flushes and night sweats – which are experienced by 70-80% of women – are well documented. But there is a vast list of wider symptoms including insomnia, low mood, anxiety, low libido, a sensation of ‘brain fog’, joint aches, headaches and palpitations. An equally vast number of stigmas and misunderstandings still exist….
Happily the dialogue is starting to open up around the importance of better understanding the menopause and its impact. So from yoga studios to leading businesses, plus celebrities such as Davina McCall and Zoe Ball, the discussions are helping to bust taboos and demystify the menopause.
Davina’s ‘Sex, Myths and Menopause’ documentary aired earlier this year on Channel 4. It created a wave of interest in the need for compassion for women going through the menopause and helped to tackle the widespread misinformation that surrounds available treatments.
As Tracey Paxton, Managing Director at The Employee Resilience Company outlines, this is exactly what is needed in the workplace – honest accounts of menopause journeys; accessible support and above all, an end to a reluctance to talk about the menopause.
Tackling menopause in the workplace
Davina highlighted that without the right support and medication, many women lose, or have to leave, their jobs. In many cases, this support becomes job-saving, lifesaving, marriage saving.
More employers should recognise the need to understand the menopause and how offering support to staff will assist them in retaining valuable team members.
Businesses should be able to facilitate open conversations with employees about what they’re experiencing. Menopause shouldn’t be a taboo, and everyone should feel confident to have a conversation with their line manager, especially when they need guidance and advice.
Open cultures need to be created where women feel comfortable to say they’re struggling with symptoms. Internal campaigns or webinars for employees are a great way to do this, enabling and starting a conversation for people. External speakers are a great way to engage people too.
Policies also need to be updated to reflect menopause – it needs to be included in sickness and flexible working policies to take into account symptoms such as night sweats and insomnia.
Companies must be flexible to their teams’ needs to make sure they’re performing to a high standard and getting the best productivity and engagement from them. As well as education and creating open cultures, businesses must invest in services that support women to enable them to perform at their best. It’s important that line managers are able to signpost their team to services and understand what help and support these are able to give. Offerings such as virtual GP services and mental health helplines are incredibly valuable for women as they can access them any time from any location to get support on a range of symptoms they’re experiencing.
The Legal Context
Under health and safety law, employers must ensure the health and safety of all of their employees. Employers have a duty to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the workplace risks to the health and safety of their employees. This includes identifying groups of workers who might be particularly at risk, an approach which should extend to assessing any specific risks that some women may experience during the menopause. This should involve carrying out risk assessments, in line with the regulations.
- Where uniforms are worn, flexibility is helpful. This could include wearing uniform of lightweight fabric, providing additional sets of uniform as well as the provision of changing facilities during the shift if required.
- In customer-focused or public-facing roles, it may help to have identified a quiet space for a short break so as to manage a severe hot flush. Where adjustments are agreed, they must be reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure they are having the required impact.
The menopause is also an equalities issue. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty not to discriminate and employees should be treated with respect in terms of their age and gender. As the menopause is a strictly female condition, any detrimental treatment of a woman related to the menopause could represent direct or indirect sex discrimination. If a woman experiences serious symptoms from the menopause transition that amount to a mental or physical impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on her ability to carry out day-to-day activities, this could be classed as a disability under the Equality Act. Failure to make reasonable adjustments could lead to a discrimination claim.
The Role of the Manager
You have an important role to play in ensuring that anyone experiencing menopausal symptoms gets the same support and understanding as if they had any other health issue. The role of line managers in supporting women experiencing menopause transition is crucial. Effective management of team members with menopausal symptoms that are impacting on their work will help you to improve your team’s morale, retain valuable skills and talent, and reduce sickness absence. Good people management is fundamental to supporting employee health and wellbeing, spotting early signs of ill health or distress, and initiating early intervention.
The level of trust you build with employees will determine the extent to which female colleagues are able to discuss menopausal symptoms and any support or adjustments they need at work.
"....open cultures need to be created where women feel comfortable to say they’re struggling with symptoms.”
Whether you are a manager looking for further information and frameworks for your teams, an employee directly experiencing the menopause, or a colleague of someone struggling with their symptoms, get in touch with BHSF for tailored guidance and resources. Call us today on 0121 454 3601 or visit bhsf.co.uk/employee-wellbeing-services