Menopause in the Workplace

Menopause isn’t a disability, but it can be disabling.

This sentence makes it so clear what I feel about undergoing menopause. The level of discomfort you can feel is pretty high, and if you are surrounded by people not understanding it, well it’s not going to be easy. Of course, some women sail through menopause barely experiencing any symptoms at all but it is not an easy transition for all of us. Experiencing headaches, mood swings, hot flushes, will all impact on your productivity causing problems in the work place, especially if you have a boss who does not understand the process. I’ve decided that 2019 is going to be the year that I push hard for better conditions for menopausal women in the workplace. In fact, a recent survey of over 3,500 women by the STUC Women’s Committee last year found that 32% of female employees felt that the menopause was dealt with negatively in their workplace while 62% said it was treated “as a joke”.

It is hard to believe that it affects every single women at some point in their lives, that’s nearly half of the population!

Women are just expected to get on with it. There is very little support out there and some women still feel alone and embarrassed to talk about it openly. Sometimes it still feels like a taboo subject, and the fact that nobody talks about it makes this even worse. Therefore, we need to fight to get better conditions for women within the workplace. By talking about it openly, raising awareness and putting the right support in place, perhaps we can get to a point where menopause is no longer an issue in the workplace at all, especially because, menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic’, which is highlighted by the Office of National Statistics. It has been demonstrated that women that understand the symptoms and ways to manage them, get their lives (and work) back on track very quickly.

In Scotland, things are starting to move in the right direction.

Many women in different job sectors testify to the importance of having the correct measurements in place. Hot flushes and heavy bleeding can be really invalidating and make your day at work an absolute nightmare. Moreover, sometimes it can leave women feeling as though there is a form of discrimination in the workplace if not handled with understanding, compassion and care. There has been a case of a woman that won a case for discrimination in her workplace. She has been awarded nineteen thousand pounds and she got her job back. Therefore, something positive is happening, awareness on this subject is growing. There is, however, still a huge amount of work to do. For example, women need to feel free to speak to their bosses about the menopause and their symptoms that affect their ability without feeling guilty, embarrassed or fear of loosing their job! It’s also very important to have their colleagues’ support and understanding too. Some women feel floored by their menopause symptoms and there is nothing they can do about it other than seeking medical support and waiting for their symptoms to improve.

There are some small measures that can and should be adopted by companies but until this becomes normal procedure we all need to keep speaking about this.

Here we have some examples of how you can make a change in your workplace, also because the Government Equalities Report on Menopause highlights the need for employers to put in place training, processes and information so that all colleagues have a clear understanding of the menopause. Whether it’s a policy or guidance document – it’s best if it’s written down and publicised. Here we have some practical suggestions:

  • Talk to HR about getting better accommodations for conditions such as menopause. 
  • Come in with a plan when talking with HR. Have a plan made out. 
  • Safe spaces – Can be used by anyone including people with mental health issues. 
  • Measures to deal with hot flushes, for example have a small fan on the desk or similar solution.
  • Allowance to seek medical advice or take breaks for heavy bleeding or hot flushes.
  • Organise sensitisation meeting to increase awareness from your employer. You can start with creating the environment to talk about menopause openly and without embarrassment. It is a natural phase in every woman’s life that needs to be normalised and addressed properly.

There are cases where people are starting to move towards a better policy to help women with menopause symptoms. Nottingham Police was the first to introduce a menopause policy. And this implementation as procedure had a positive impact on all staff. All employees are very happy. So speaking openly had a huge positive impact. So let’s all start to speak up and start making the workplace a better place for everyone.

Author Dr Ornella Cappellari