Today, women aged 40-60 are the fastest-growing populations at work. As such, it's important that women, who contribute so much feel supported at work. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Menopause is quite often under prioritised and not considered a 'serious health condition'. In actual fact, the impact of your menopause is important for you, your employer, and your colleagues - the more we continue to ignore it, the more your menopausal symptoms can lead to an uncomfortable and potentially stressful working environment.
How can we begin to address the menopause in the work place?
Women need to ensure that they understand their menopause to understand how it can affect work. Women are often unaware that their changes in behaviour and work efficacy are due to their menopausal symptoms, because we get so little information and education about menopause.
Women have legal rights in the workplace, and we want to make you aware of these. In addition we want to help you with tips on how to discuss your menopause at work if you need to. Whilst many employers are getting wise to supporting women through menopause, some are still a little behind on this. By every woman knowing her own rights, we can help make workplaces better for all.
Understand how menopause can impact your work
Menopausal symptoms are wide ranging and often will impact both your work ability and your work related relationships. In 2019, the CIPD surveyed 1,409 menopausal women and concluded that:
- 59% of these women disclosed that their menopausal symptoms had a negative effect on them in their work place
- Nearly two-thirds (65 %) said they were less able to concentrate
- More than half (58 %) said they experienced more stress
- More than half (52 %) said they felt less patient with clients and colleagues
- Nearly a third (30 %) said they had taken sick leave but had not felt able to say the real reason for their absence.
Amongst these, the most common symptoms include hot flushes, fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, and anxiety. Alone or in combination, these symptoms can make it difficult to stay focused for long periods of time... let alone endure 6+ hour working days, do manual labour, or interact with those who do not understand how you are feeling.
But the reality is that menopause can be a very sensitive and personal topic, and it can be extremely uncomfortable to talk about. So, many women will choose not too. Many will similarly think that it’s not a ‘big enough issue’ to discuss with their employers or line managers. So women will try and cope through their symptoms on their own, often shying away from asking for help. This is normal. However, struggling with symptoms can lead to women losing confidence in their ability to do their job. Worst case some women feel like they should leave their job. 1 in 3 women will leave their job as a result of their menopause today.
Speaking to your manager
There are a number of things you can do to address the impact that your menopause is having on you:
- Speaking to your line manager about your symptoms
- Speaking to a co-worker about your symptoms
- Asking about resources that are available to you for additional support.
Although we know that speaking to people at work can be had, it will probably help. If you can bring it up with your manager, it can be helpful to share a bit of context about what menopause is and what you are experiencing - as many people do not know much about menopause because we' aren't taught about it! If you do decide to speak to your manager, do so in a confidential and friendly environment, where both you and them can be honest and feel relaxed about what is bothering you. Often, it's small and fairly simple changes that offer women health and comfort in their workplace that can make all the difference.
These could include:
- Incorporating menopause into their policies, so women feel heard, supported and enabled
- Feeling comfortable to talk about the menopause without shame, by staff being educated
- Providing training or education on the menopause for all line managers
- Providing resources for support in the workplace.
If you don't feel ready to speak to your manager, try opening up to one of your trusted coworkers. You will probably find that you are not the only one struggling through this time - having someone in your corner can be a huge help and boost your confidence.
Your legal rights
Sometimes knowing your legal rights can help make women feel more confident in asking for help.
By prioritising health and safety of workers, employers must take the steps to either eliminate or minimise any risks or hazards in their workplace. As such, this includes ensuring that the working environment, or working demands, do not worsen or exploit your menopausal symptoms. This also includes being flexible and helping you manage your symptoms in a comfortable way. Reasonable adjustments can be made to accomodate menopausal symptoms, including:
- Changing the temperature in the workplace
- Ensuring that the uniform is comfortable and does not heighten hot flushes or skin irritation
- Implementing time and space for rest – especially in jobs with lots of manual labour
- Flexible working hours and permitting breaks when needed.
It is very important that if you do feel discriminated against or dismissed regarding your menopausal symptoms, do consider raising a formal grievance.
Menopausal women's rights are protected by 2 acts. The Equality Act 2010 – which acts to protect all workers against acts of discrimination (including age, sex and disability); and The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – which acts to ensure that employers are behaving in a practical and reasonable manner, practicing health, safety and welfare at work. Although menopause is not specifically mentioned in these acts, if you feel that you are being treated unfairly, or that your health is not being addressed, this can amount to discrimination.
Laws that are currently in place which directly pertain to your menopause include:
- Sex Discrimination – If you feel that you are being treated unfairly because of your sex. This could easily be if you feel that your health is not being prioritised because your employer doesn’t understand the severity of your menopausal symptoms.
- Disability Discrimination – Your menopausal symptoms can absolutely impair your ability to work. The disability law will protect against “Discrimination arising from disability”.
- Age Discrimination – This law will protect against unfair treatment because of age. You have a right to practice this law and because your menopause comes with age, your employer should learn to understand that.
Thethis down in a lot more depth. It also shares how you can pursue your legal rights in the workplace if you are currently struggling.
The menopause is not going anywhere - and it's time that it is acknowledged and respected. Women should not be expected to stop working or simply 'cope' with their symptoms whilst enduring busy days at work. If health and well-being is a top priority for line managers, then yes - this includes your menopausal symptoms.
- Health Awareness. 2019. Menopause in the workplace: what are your rights? - Health Awareness. [online] Available at: https://www.healthawareness.co.uk/menopause/menopause-in-the-workplace-what-are-your-rights [Accessed March 2021].
- Archive.acas.org.uk. n.d. Menopause at work | Acas. [online] Available at: https://archive.acas.org.uk/menopause [Accessed March 2021].
- Geddes, C., 2021. Employment law and menopause: do you know your rights?. [online] Henpicked. Available at: https://henpicked.net/menopause-at-work-your-legal-rights [Accessed March 2021].
- the Guardian. n.d. A third of women hide menopause symptoms at work – report. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/mar/08/a-third-of-women-hide-menopause-symptoms-at-work-report [Accessed March 2021].