Employers Urged to “Normalise Conversations” about the Menopause
Over 40% of women experiencing the menopause said it’s affecting their mental health. But three quarters of women feel they can’t tell their employer about their symptoms. This has to change.
Talking about the problems a woman can have whilst going through the menopause is still a topic of stigma and taboo in the workplace. In fact, a survey carried out by the BBC found that 70% of women would not tell their employer about their menopause symptoms.
With more women than ever over the age of 50 in employment (around 4.4 million), this topic should be on every employer’s agenda.
How Does the Menopause Affect Women?
Most women will experience the menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. However, there could be medical reasons why a woman may need to have her ovaries removed at an earlier age, resulting in an early menopause.
It’s fair to say that some women sail through the menopause with practically no symptoms and with no effect on their job. However, most women will experience some or all of the symptoms associated with the menopause.
Common symptoms include headaches, hot flushes, anxiety and/or depression, mood changes and night sweats resulting in a lack of sleep and causing fatigue during the day. These symptoms can vary in severity, as with any other long-term health condition.
And for those women who suffer with such symptoms life in general, and especially work life, can become very difficult. The BBC survey found that around 50% of women said that it affected their mental health with the feelings that their life was falling apart. They couldn’t concentrate and couldn’t explain their sudden lack of confidence in their ability to do their job. 25% of the women surveyed said that their symptoms made them just want to stay at home.
The Stigma of the Menopause
Personal issues, especially when it comes to women’s health and bodies, has long been a taboo topic in the workplace and beyond.
Because of this stigma, almost three-quarters of the women surveyed said that they felt they couldn’t tell their manager about their symptoms. Most commonly, this was because their manager was a lot younger than them. Other reasons included being afraid that if they said anything they would be thought of as malingering or making excuses. Respondents were worried about receiving the usual comments such as ‘it’s just your age!’ or ‘it’s just a hot flush!’
This statistic shows we need to work a lot harder to reduce the stigma surrounding the menopause so that women are able to talk freely about what is affecting their working life – and have their concerns taken seriously.
What Can You Do as an Employer?
Research has shown that by taking the menopause seriously and talking about it with those affected, there’s a much better chance of keeping sickness absence to a minimum. It will also help employees to maintain their commitment rather than potentially feeling like they want to give up work completely.
It shouldn’t be an embarrassing topic. Quite often a couple of simple changes to the working environment (e.g. providing a fan) can make a great deal of difference. In many cases, just being able to talk about it openly may reduce some of the symptoms such as anxiety.
Know your team and have regular one-to-ones. This will build a certain amount of trust and hopefully create an environment where your employees can speak openly to you. You will also be able to notice when someone isn’t working in the same way as they normally do. Confidentiality is key as your employee may not want everyone to know that they have a problem.
Offer support in the same way as you would in any other health situation. Don’t make any assumptions about how someone is feeling. If you want to know how they are, then ask them if they’re okay. A genuine enquiry of this kind can go a long way to building the working relationship.
You have a duty to ensure that your working environment is suitable. You can carry out a risk assessment to see if there is anything you can do by way of a reasonable adjustment to assist them in being able to continue performing their role. Sometimes a temporary adjustment to someone’s work duties can work wonders.
Remember, it’s not a case of ‘one size fits all’. Everyone is different and what was helpful to one person may not be helpful to someone else. Unless you talk about it, you’re not going to know.
Moorepay customers who would like advice on supporting employees who are experiencing symptoms of the menopause should contact the advice line on 0845 073 0240.If you’re not a customer, you may want to learn more about Moorepay’s HR / Employment Law Services, which gives customers access to our 27/7/365 advice line.