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.