Hello PPMA friends
How symptoms of the menopause affect women in the workplace is an important issue for employers and Angela O’Connor from the HR Lounge, gives some valuable advice on the best ways to support women during this period of their working lives. Angela is a past President of the PPMA (SOCPO) and continues to be a great supporter, having recently delivered a fantastic session for our latest Peer into the Future Cohort.
Who wants to talk about the menopause? Not many people it seems unless it is in hushed tones and with a pained expression. Those attitudes have to change and fast not least because menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce. Employers who understand the cost of rehiring and re training good staff will understand the economic arguments.
Its not just the economic perspective that should lead the debate though:
Imagine having a condition that has symptoms that can include hot flushes, palpitations, headaches, night sweats and sleep disturbance, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, mood disturbance, skin irritation and dryness, urinary problems and heavy, irregular periods, and that doesn’t include the psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, low mood, lack of confidence and poor concentration.
Yippee welcome to the menopause. Some women will not experience any symptoms at all (lucky them!) but many do and this has an impact on employers.
By talking about it openly, raising awareness and putting the right support in place, perhaps we could get to a point where menopause is no longer an issue in the workplace at all.
But, today, it’s hidden with potentially significant consequences for both employees and employers.
For employers there are some key issues if your fastest growing demographic in the workforce is experiencing often debilitating symptoms that could impact on their performance, their satisfaction with work, their mental health and ultimately whether they stay at work or not wouldn’t you want to know you were doing everything possible to support them ?
Many line managers say that they don’t feel confident talking about menopause. They don’t know enough about it or how they can help. Unlike maternity where it’s usually clear: a woman gets pregnant, has antenatal appointments, has a baby and returns to work.
It may be more complicated for menopause; every woman’s experience is different. This means that managers need training to understand the range of possibilities and have guidance on the support that their organisation can provide to help.
It’s usually simple, low-cost support, like a desk fan or time off to visit their GP, that helps. Or even just the opportunity to talk about it.
Line managers don’t need to be menopause experts, but they do need to be able to create an ethos where women feel supported.
How a woman manages her menopause symptoms is between her and her GP or menopause specialist, unless it’s affecting her work or she wants to talk about it.
Before you decide that just writing a menopause policy will allow you to tick the box stop and think. There’s lots of good advice out there
Acas has published Menopause at work guidance to help employers and managers support their staff. It includes tips for workers on how to raise any concerns and good practice guidance for employers to help manage menopause at work.
The Faculty of Occupational Medicine’s (FOM) Guidance on menopause and the workplace and infographic highlights that nearly eight out of ten menopausal women are in work. FOM also found that the majority of women are unwilling to disclose menopause related health problems to their managers. The guidance offers practical guidance on how to improve workplace environments.
Researchers from King’s College London and The University of Nottingham have been looking at what working menopausal women really want.
Woman want their employers and managers to know what menopause is, the nature of its symptoms, and understand the potential impact of the work environment on menopausal symptoms (and vice versa). This included the fact that hot flushes can often be embarrassing, and that disturbed nights can lead to lack of concentration.
Most women also mentioned the physical work environment. Better awareness here could lead to improved reasonable adjustments. Specific suggestions were:
- Improved ventilation and temperature control
- Readily available cold drinking water
- Well designed, supportive seating
- Desk fans
- Access to rest areas and toilets
Importantly, women were keen for menopause to not always be seen in a negative light. Rhetoric such as ‘affliction’ or ‘condition’ is definitely off limits. Menopause is a normal, natural process, but experienced differently by all women. Therefore, managers should avoid drawing assumptions or generalising. Essentially, employers should never adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
An important factor for employers to consider is also the temporary nature of menopause. Respondents suggested more recognition of the fact that menopause symptoms eventually pass could help. In particular, as this means they may only require support for a relatively short period of time.
Communication skills and behaviours
Empathy is a key factor in communication, with women citing consideration and concern as something they’d expect from managers. They asked for managers to show respect, to listen and to take concerns seriously. Conversations should be kept strictly private. Indeed, it’s seen as very important that employers do not draw any attention to a woman’s menopause or symptoms.
A number of things were raised in this area which were ‘unhelpful’. These included:
- Forcing women to have conversations they are uncomfortable with
- Patronising, belittling or implying a woman is less good at her job due to menopause
- Flippant, jokey behaviour
- Using terminology such as ‘ladies’ problems’
- Harassing, penalising or criticising women going through menopause
- Avoiding conversations due to a managers’ personal discomfort
Effective policies and guidance are important. Many women identified existing policies which could incorporate menopause. These included sickness policies to accommodate menopause symptoms. Time off for medical appointments could also be regarded as ‘authorised absence’ – in many cases they currently aren’t. Embedding a positive culture to women’s health is important, creating an open environment and promoting honest discussion.
Many women highlighted the need for workplace training to equip managers with the confidence, skills and knowledge to support menopause in the workplace.
In olden days , women had to resign when they got married , it was frowned upon to have a baby and a career, there have been so many restrictions on women in employment and thank goodness they have been reducing, lets lead the way in organisations in getting rid of one of the last taboos.
Angela O’Connor, CEO, The HR Lounge.
T +44 (0) 207183 8595
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