Time for a menopause policy?

I’m doing some policy work at the moment.

A little while ago the question arose…. Should we have a policy on the menopause at work?

My immediate response, fuelled by a general dislike of having a policy for everything, was…. no. Why would we need one?

And then I educated myself a little bit more.

It’s an area that is getting increasing focus from government, trade unions and organisations. You can find a recent publication here.

Here is what I now know.

Women are working later in life than they did in the past.

If we take the typical age that women experience the menopause, over 4m could be working through this life transition in the UK.

For some women, the symptoms can be severe and debilitating. There’s various research, but around 10-15% of women experience very severe symptoms.

Symptoms vary – but many can impact upon work either practically or in terms of confidence.

At the same time, for many women, it’s hard to talk about their menopause in the workplace – especially to male, younger managers.

Some women find coping strategies. Others opt to hide their symptoms.

Women are concerned about how they will be perceived if they talk about it. Some research points to discrimination and inappropriate comments and banter (otherwise known has harassment) about the menopause.

More research pointed to the increased likelihood of negative reactions in male dominated environments – making women even less likely to speak out.

We’ve seen the matter of the menopause in the employment tribunal too. The leading case involves a women being dismissed for performance, which she alleged was as a result of her menopause and associated health conditions.  The dismissing (male) manager made no attempt to verify this with Occupation Health, and instead based his decision on the (non severe) menopause experiences of his wife and HR advisor……. I’ll just leave that there.

On my commute today I saw a poll on Twitter, asking if women should get ‘menopause leave’. The evidence is clear that menopause is an experience that differs significantly from woman to woman.  So a one stop shop piece of legislation or ‘right to request time off’ isn’t the answer.

Small changes are sometimes all that is needed. If you provide uniform, making sure it’s made of natural fibres, or providing more than normal so that women can change at work.  Small adjustments to working hours or breaks for women who are experiencing sleep problems or fatigue.  Ventilation, fans and access to cold drinking water or changing facilities.

Above all, like with most people stuff, it is about dialogue.  Creating the conditions where conversations are safe, people feel like they can raise the difficult stuff and reach out for the support that they really need.

I’m still in the ‘no’ camp on a policy. But a little more awareness, guidance and support where it is needed?  Very definitely yes.

3 thoughts on “Time for a menopause policy?

  1. As I am going through this at the moment I read this with interest. I am of the opinion that there should not be special dispensation made for a life event that every woman will go through at some point although I take your point that some suffer more than others (I certainly am, but having sailed through pregnancy and childbirth so was bound to suffer at some point!). I feel that it is the individual’s responsibility to manage this for themselves as I am and although I am now in a team with no one of my age with whom I can talk about these things, I would hope that it doesn’t come to that. I did however disclose that I am taking HRT in my pre-employment medical questionnaire so the facts are out there if it should ever become necessary. I actually feel it would be more beneficial to have mental health days as that is the cause of more suffering proportionately than the menopause and affects both sexes.

  2. Would completely agree with Anya – menopause is obviously something that has a drastic scope of effect, with some women experience symptoms quite easy to live with and other experience symptoms that can often be crippling and debilitating. This should in my opinion be treated on an individual basis and in the simplest way possible. Should an employee have any particular needs, the employer should act in a way that is professional and proportionate to the issues of that particular employee. Though comparing menopause symptoms within your wife to employees, obviously a no-no.

  3. This is an interesting topic but I agree that I don’t think another policy would be necessary unless your workforce demographic is primarily older women. But it could and should be addressed on an individual basis.

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