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What reasonable adjustments can aid menopausal employees at work? Guest Article by Cathy Richardson

Co-workers sat together looking at a document“There is a culture of ignorance and isolation around menopause in the workplace and a glaring lack of support for employees and their managers.” – Fawcett Report, 2022

Research from consultancy firm Menopause Experts has shown that during UK tribunals, menopause was cited 116 times in the first half of 2021, compared to just five cases in the first nine months of 2018. 

So many women I’ve talked to see menopause as a blessing. They have discovered that this is an opportunity to reinvent themselves after years of focusing on the needs of everyone else. It’s important to remember that menopause is normal and that it’s not an excuse for under-performance, or for one part of the workforce to be treated differently to another.

And no woman entering perimenopause expects to be treated differently – in fact, their first choice would always be for nothing to change. They WANT to continue performing and doing well at work. 

Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workforce, so it’s important now more than ever to be able to speak openly about menopause at work.

Why should reasonable adjustments be made for menopausal women?

Menopause can affect a woman’s working life. Sometimes menopausal symptoms or working conditions may impact their ability to concentrate or carry out their role to the best of their abilities. And that’s why support should be available to help at work.

In a survey of 1,000 adults in the UK, the British Menopause Society found that 45% of women felt that menopausal symptoms had a negative impact on their work and 47% who needed to take a day off work due to menopause symptoms said they wouldn’t tell their employer the real reason.

Many women have said that they often find managing their menopause symptoms in the workplace very challenging. Coping with symptoms at work can be hard, especially as many women find it difficult to talk about their situation at work.

 The culture of ignorance and isolation extends into feelings of shame, guilt, loss of confidence and a fear of failure. The stress and fear that go alongside these negative emotions will tend to make the physical symptoms of menopause worse. It’s one of the reasons why so many women end up being treated for depression and anxiety instead of being offered HRT. It’s an evil cycle that will only be broken with communication, education and breaking the myths that surround this natural part of our lifecycle.

1 in 4 women will experience no symptoms at all, and 1 in 4 will have symptoms so severe that they could be regarded as a disability. The rest of the women will experience a range of symptoms at varying levels of severity.

Legally, menopause falls under age, sex and disability as considerations under the Equalities Act of 2010. This act requires employers to put reasonable adjustments in place to bring equity for all the protected characteristics under the act, and to level the playing field for ALL employees – including but not limited to menopausal people only.

What reasonable adjustments apply to menopause at work?

Group of colleagues collaborating together, looking at laptop screenIt’s useful to think about the practical changes that will be helpful. These are normally not expensive changes, yet simple adjustments will go a long way to support menopausal employees.

Create a support network

The most important adjustment is the creation of a supportive network of colleagues to talk about experiences, ask for support and reduce feelings of isolation.

Put a menopause policy in place

 When a topic is open for conversation, the stigma disappears and it becomes normalised. If there is a clear policy in place which is accessible to everyone, all employees will know what YOUR business ethic is around menopause at work, how it should be approached and how managers are empowered to support employees experiencing problematic symptoms.

Training and Education

Giving all employees access to the same training creates a level playing field for everyone. If employees know that the topic is open for communication and that managers are trained to deal with it, they will feel far more comfortable discussing their individual needs. Training managers and informing them about how to provide support and where to signpost employees for support, they will be able to have the right conversations, at the right times, to ensure that legal obligations are observed while employees’ needs are also embraced.

Flexible working

Being flexible with start and finish times, or allowing working from home (both examples) are excellent adjustments. For days when e.g. symptoms like sleeplessness, heavy sweating or menstrual flooding cause particular distress, flexible working options will go a long way to give employees a sense of comfort that they will not end up in potentially embarrassing situations, and that their personal needs are considered so that they can discharge their duties without needing to take time off.

More practical examples of reasonable adjustments

  • Group of co-workers working together, looking at documentsConsidering a different uniform or PPE (much of which is not specifically designed for women) if they are experiencing hot flushes or sweats
  • Using technology where it can be helpful, for example setting up reminders or taking more notes to help with ‘brain fog’
  • Women-only toilets, with sanitary products available, somewhere to wash and freshen up and perhaps some spare clothing at hand, should spotting or sweats cause embarrassment
  • Hazards within the physical working environment – such as high temperatures, poor ventilation, working in confined spaces, excessive crowding and bright light – can all contribute to an environment that is problematic for menopausal women, especially with symptoms like flushes, anxiety or migraines. Moving to a cooler, quieter part of the office and being offered a desk fan or a seat by an open window with natural light are excellent adjustments that cost nothing
  • Allow sufficient breaks to manage fatigue and provide private rest spaces, where possible, for this purpose to aid symptoms like sleeplessness, fatigue or anxiety
  • Have resources available – leaflets, web links, a small library of reading material, etc – to aid education and ensure signposting to useful and constructive information about symptoms. 

Ensure an equitable workplace for all employees.

Communication is key. Ask people about how they feel or what they’re going through. It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone might want to talk about certain symptoms or feelings. It is also important to remember that everyone’s menopause is different so don’t make assumptions about what they are experiencing. However, letting them know there is a support system in place for when they need it will make them feel supported. 

Encouragement is crucial. They might not feel like doing things they normally would, and their self-esteem might be low. Words of encouragement can help everyone feel uplifted and empowered. Inviting them to engage with a range of people or activities will also provide opportunities to feel good about themselves even when experiencing symptoms.

Get started now!

Please do get in touch with Cathy to discuss what can be done in your workplace to retain the skills and experience of menopausal employees. Putting simple adjustments in place that cost very little financially, is easy. The risk of NOT putting them in place can be costly: In a recent reasonable adjustments case, an employee was awarded £65k against Direct Line Insurance!

 

Cathy RichardsonCathy Richardson is a workplace trainer and menopause coach. After a 30-year career in HR and Talent Consultancy, her passion is to bring the topics of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion to life at work through frank and open discussion, education and coaching. In particular, mental health and sleep problems are of interest to her, when she supports menopausal women through support groups and her thriving online community at My Magical Menopause. She is also a senior yoga teacher and yoga therapist. In 2018, Cathy was nominated as a Positive Role Model for Age in the National Diversity Awards. Please feel free to reach out to Cathy for an informal chat, using the links provided above.

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