There are many health issues we may experience over the course of our lives that can affect our ability to do our jobs – but often, the menopause may not be something that immediately springs to mind. However, in her latest annual report, ‘Health of the 51%: women’, the government’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Professor Dame Sally Davies, calls for the taboo around the menopause and the workplace to be broken.
In a study conducted by the University of Nottingham, almost 900 working women were surveyed about the effect the menopause had on their working lives. Over 50% of women found that the menopause had had a detrimental impact upon their work, with hot flushes, poor concentration, tiredness, poor memory, feeling low or depressed and lowered confidence being the most problematic symptoms.
Evidently, symptoms such as these could strongly impact a woman’s ability to perform her work duties to the best of her ability. But menopause is still often seen as a taboo subject and not a matter for discussion at work. The TUC surveyed 500 safety representatives on the issue of the menopause, with almost one in three respondents reporting management criticism of menopause-related sick leave, over a third citing embarrassment or difficulties in discussing the menopause with their employers, and one in five speaking of criticism, ridicule and even harassment from their managers when the subject was broached.
So what can employers do to ensure they are properly supporting their staff members who may be going through the menopause? Firstly, they could ensure that all line managers have been trained to be aware of how the menopause can affect working women and what adjustments may be necessary to support them. These are likely to be minimal for most women, and would only be required on a temporary basis.
Information about the menopause could also be shared with staff as part of wider occupational health strategies, to ensure that any staff members who may go through the menopause while working at the company know that the organisation operates an open, positive attitude towards the issue, which will help to reduce stigma and embarrassment.
Additionally, if any risk assessments are undertaken in the workplace, the potential symptoms and needs of menopausal women should form a part of this. Employers could also consider offering flexible working for those struggling with menopausal symptoms, or call the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 to get advice and support on how to help staff members going through the menopause.
Around 80% of menopausal women do experience noticeable changes and of these, 45 per cent find their symptoms difficult to deal with. If an employee is off for four weeks or more due to menopausal issues, employers can refer them to Fit for Work for a 45-minute telephone assessment, to help support their employee back to work in a way that suits them.