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Lucie Mitchell investigates how employers can better support women going through the menopause who are doing remote or hybrid working.
In some ways, working from home can make it easier for women to manage their menopause symptoms as they can, for instance, work more flexibly, wear comfortable clothing, and have more control over the room temperature.
However, for others it can actually be more challenging, with many suffering from increased feelings of isolation or a lack of confidence. Plus, with all the changes to the workplace over the last 18 months, menopause may have slipped off the radar for those who aren’t directly affected.
According to research earlier this year by My Menopause Centre and BritainThinks, over two thirds of menopausal women agreed that the menopause can negatively impact their performance at work and their career; while a 2019 report by Bupa and the CIPD revealed that almost one million women had left their jobs due to menopausal symptoms.
“That’s a staggering figure, given the organisational impact of this loss of talent and impacted productivity, and clearly illustrates the need for workplaces to have a menopause policy in place that helps women prepare for the menopause and provides the right type of support in managing their symptoms through their menopause transition,” remarks Helen Normoyle, co-founder of My Menopause Centre.
It’s therefore essential that employers ensure their menopause policies are updated to reflect the fact that a significant number of menopausal women are now also remote or hybrid workers, and still need support regardless of where they are working.
“Covid has fundamentally changed the way people work, and as we emerge from lockdown, we’re seeing a far greater prevalence of hybrid working,” says Normoyle. “Employers need to ensure they understand how Covid has impacted women’s experience of the menopause and the implications of this on the support they provide, and to ensure that the policies they are implementing are effective in both remote and hybrid settings.”
There are a number of key points employers should include, when updating or bringing in a new policy on menopause and hybrid working.
“Setting out the purpose of the policy, who it covers and whether it is contractual or not, will be important – as will a headline explanation as to what the menopause is, common symptoms and effects, and why it is relevant to work,” advises Charlotte Geesin, head of employment law at Howarths.
“Referring to health and safety practices could also be useful, and mentioning the link between home working, the menopause and risk assessments will be beneficial. Reference to the possibility for support and adjustments during any home working period, or because of the menopause, should also be made.”
Employers should also focus on promoting open conversation, signposting employees to colleagues they can talk to, and confirming that any concerns will be addressed sensitively and in a non-discriminatory manner, she adds.
However, employers can and should do more, beyond developing a policy, to ensure their menopausal women are supported both at home and in the office.
“While creating a menopause policy is incredibly helpful and provides a great foundation, in and of itself it’s not enough,” comments Normoyle. “It’s critical to create a culture of inclusion, one which helps to normalise the conversation around the menopause, which is led from the very top of the organisation, and where women feel comfortable speaking to their line manager, or the HR or occupational health team, whether that is in person or remotely.”
Katie Taylor, founder and CEO of The Latte Lounge, a platform for midlife women, suggests a number of ways that employers can create a hybrid workplace that is inclusive and supportive to menopausal women.
“Introduce ‘menopause champions’; hold events or talks to open up the conversation and break down the taboos; train and educate managers; and reassure women that you are there to listen and support them in whatever way they need,” she advises.
It is also important to give women a choice about where they work, says Dee Murray, CEO and founder of Menopause Experts. “Letting your staff make the decision about how they split their time between work and home is a good start. Also, having a designated menopause support person in place means that an employee having a tough time because of a sleepless night is able to disclose this, and offer to make up the hours later that day from home.”
Employers could also work on creating a collegiate atmosphere for home or hybrid workers who may be experiencing menopause symptoms, suggests Geesin. “Physical distance can lead to psychological distance. It’s much easier to check in on colleagues when sharing a physical space. Ensuring that you have regular exchanges with colleagues outside immediate working areas or departments can have a positive impact on morale and effective performance.”