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Discussions about women’s health in the workplace have ramped up in recent years, with topics such as menopause, menstrual and parental leave hitting the headlines, often for the wrong reasons as employers try to negotiate fairer policies and working practices for their teams.
Employers should treat menopause as they would any other health issue, not only to break the stigma and taboo surrounding menopause at work but also to create an inclusive environment where employees and managers feel able to discuss any reasonable adjustments that may be needed.
In 2022, the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) said the Government should pilot a menopause leave policy with a large public sector employer that has a strong public profile. However, the UK Government rejected this recommendation claiming it was too expensive and instead offered ‘best practice’ policies to aid workplaces in addressing and supporting employees going through menopause.
There are several fairly simple and practical steps that employers can and should implement to support their employees and get ahead of changing expectations.
Education and building a culture of understanding are key to breaking down stereotypes and stamping out stereotypical comments such as those around hot flashes, which are similar to jokes about women being overly emotional because of their period. This educational approach will help prevent employees and employers from remaining stuck in stereotypes and assumptions, which are often the beginning of discrimination claims.
It’s vital that managers create a safe environment where women feel comfortable talking about issues they’re experiencing. Particularly if their line manager is a man. Women may not feel comfortable speaking to male colleagues, so it’s critical that support and other options are readily available and easily accessible. These could include HR, an employee resource group or welfare officer.
Steps businesses could take to help alleviate the discomfort that menopause can bring may include providing fans at all employees’ desks to counter hot flashes, being mindful that only offering fans to those who need them may draw unwanted attention to women experiencing menopause, creating embarrassment and potentially discrimination. It’s also vital to equip HR teams with mental health/self-care tips and resources they can pass on, to help diminish the mental health symptoms that are experienced during menopause. These self-care tips may include meditation, a balanced diet and prioritising healthy sleeping patterns.
Employers could also consider implementing a judgment-free menopause flexibility scheme that allows women experiencing menopause to work from home, particularly, if they are experiencing physical discomfort and pain, brain fog, depression, or anxiety.
Ultimately, employers should be proactive, not reactive and seek to broach the subject before it’s raised or becomes an issue. This can include the menopause being written into an employee health guidebook. Employers should also consistently keep track of the gender and age profile of their workforce.
Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workforce, and it’s critical for organisations to address this issue. With 3 in 5 women negatively affected at work because of menopause, organisations should adopt a proactive, not reactive approach to support, retain and attract staff and stamp out the possibility of discrimination before they face a potentially costly legal battle.
To find out more about World Menopause Day, click here.
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