Working with the Menopause

Posted on 22nd August 2017

What’s going on?  It’s 2017 and the menopause is still not being freely discussed in the workplace even though 50% of the population are female. 

 
In the past women often didn’t work after they had children.  This has all changed however, with more women than ever running businesses or working until they reach pension age, which is steadily increasing.  The average woman reaches the menopause at 51, meaning women could spend up to 20 years or so working after reaching the menopause – if they can cope with the difficulties at work that is.

Are employers supportive enough?

There are some progressive employers that have a policy in place for those going through the menopause, to ensure women are fully supported.  That’s because although some women don’t experience any menopausal symptoms, the majority experience significant changes to their body including hot sweats, confidence issues, fatigue and irritability, sleeping problems and problems with concentration.  This can have a detrimental effect on a woman’s ability to carry out their job in the same way as before – an approachable and understanding employer can make all the difference.

Employers who are unable to seriously consider problems experienced by menopausal women are at risk of losing highly valued members of staff.  They may even face claims for constructive unfair dismissal, age discrimination, sex discrimination and/or disability discrimination depending on the circumstances.

Case study

Helen* works in a supermarket and is going through the menopause and is on long term, strong medication to help her manage symptoms including forgetfulness, insomnia and depression.  Whilst working one day she went on her break, accidentally leaving some money from a customer on top of the till instead of in the till.  Upon returning from her break she panicked when she realised what had happened and informed her line manager.  She was then suspended and under investigation for attempted theft.  

Helen felt embarrassed, isolated and unsure of what to do.  Ideally, she needed to talk to her employer to explain the difficulties she was having – to give them a chance to help her.  Her employer would need to carry out an investigation in this situation but, again ideally, they would take those difficulties into consideration and could even instigate a new policy to ensure Helen and other women going through the menopause have a good support system in place.


What can employers do?

It could be as simple as having a positive and open attitude towards the menopause so that women don’t feel embarrassed to talk about their symptoms at work, and importantly, to their employer.  Other considerations could be:

  • Offering flexible working – some women will need more breaks or may be struggling to sleep at night, both of which can affect their working hours
  • Making adjustments to clothing for women who need to wear a uniform – changing the fabric or providing additional uniforms could help women feel less embarrassed if they are experiencing hot sweats
  • Training staff – especially managers, on how the menopause can affect women in the workplace

Simple changes can make a huge difference to a woman’s well-being at work.  Reducing their stress could lead to an improved performance – a win win situation!


It's time to talk

  • We hear from women who are too afraid to speak to their employer about the menopause so they resign instead
  • Some women tell us their employers won’t accept that menopause is an acceptable reason for the change in their work
  • Sometimes we hear from a woman’s partner instead initially, as they’re too embarrassed to discuss the problems they’re having at work due to menopausal symptoms

There is a long way to go to remove the stigma attached to the menopause and we’d like to help female employees and their employers to move forward.

Give us a call if you’re an employee, for advice or just to let us know about your experiences whilst going through the menopause at work.  If you’re an employer, we can offer you advice or help you to put a policy in place.  We’d love to hear about any measure you have in place already for your female employees going through the menopause.  Everything is confidential and it would be good to hear about your experiences, however good or bad.

Dr Louise Newson is a GP and menopause expert who has prepared a useful booklet entitled ‘Menopause & Me In the Workplace’, available here https://menopausedoctor.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/00498-02-Menopause-and-Work-Booklet-V5-FINAL.pdf 

For more information you can visit her website at https://menopausedoctor.co.uk/ 

Call us on 0114 209 4208 or if you’d rather email us, please send to vivien.earp@clicksolicitors.co.uk