In the UK, around two million women aged over 50 have difficulties at work due to their menopause symptoms and it is estimated that one in 20 women could go through early menopause. In 2019, there were over a 4.3million employed women in the UK aged 45-60. Bear in mind that the average age of a women’s menopause is 51 years, a significant number of employed women will be working through their menopausal transition.
This can be a significant period of a woman’s life and a conversation needs to be had about how this affects both the employer and the women that are often debilitated by this health condition. Every woman experiences the menopausal transition differently. Some women will have no symptoms at all but most women will experience at least one. Up to a third of women will experience severe menopausal symptoms that can impact on their quality of life and how they function in the workplace.
The effects of menopause on staff
- feeling ill
- losing confidence to do their job
- feeling stressed, anxious or depressed
- feeling tired
- experiencing hot flushes
- headaches and migraines
Why employers need to tackle the issues around menopause sensitively.
This question raises a great point of curiosity in why we are even having this conversation in 2021. It is absolutely in the interests of an organisation to support workers with perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms in the workplace and tribunal cases are on the increase.
Not only is this a health and wellbeing matter, managing menopause in the workplace sensitively and effectively will help an employer retain vital skills, knowledge and experience. There have been many incidents reported in the workplace of bullying and back-hand comments around the need to have the windows open or the air conditioning to be on to assist the member of staff who is struggling with her bodily temperature.
Currently around one in eight of the British workforce are women over 50. By 2022 it is forecast that around one in six will be women over 50. Most women over 50 will have or have had, perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms that affect their work. For one in three, the symptoms will be severe. For one in four, the symptoms will be mild.
Acas have laid out some guidance which includes tips for workers on how to raise any concerns and good practice for employers to help manage menopause at work. Top tips include:
- create and implement a menopause policy
- provide awareness training for managers to deal with any concerns in a sensitive way
- create an open and trusted culture within the team
- make changes where possible such as altering working hours
- implement low-cost environmental changes such as providing desk fans
- be aware of employment laws that can relate to menopause issues at work such as the risks of sex, disability or age discrimination
Menopause and Mental Health Law
The Equality Act 2010, clearly outlines the risks of sex discrimination, disability discrimination, and age discrimination. Menopause and perimenopause are not specifically protected under the Equality Act. It may lead to discrimination if a member of staff who is going through the menopause is treated unfairly due to their sex, disability, and/or their age. We have to take into account that men also suffer from a form of menopause post prostate surgery.
Most tribunal cases in which menopause has been brought as an issue concerned disabling effects of peri-menopause, followed by age/sex cases and sex discrimination cases. A recent talk I attended discussed the following two approaches to menopause in the workplace:
- A disability-based approach, including a suggestion that menopause might be deemed a disability
- A unique characteristic approach: in a similar way to the way in which pregnancy is recognised as a unique characteristic of women, menopause should also be recognised in the law, and a system of accessing accommodations for menopause should be instituted
Employers and workers have to find solutions
As talking about the menopause can be both a sensitive and personal subject, both the employer and worker may find the menopause and perimenopause difficult to discuss. If there is no one trained to have such a conversation, it is likely to be particularly difficult and often discriminatory. All conversations around the menopause should be at all times held in confidence, be honest, and held in a supportive environment where possible.
This is going to be a hot topic in the years to come and I will be writing further articles on this subject.
Sally Benson. Director of UK Counselling Network CIC