Inclusive menopause practice

Kate Palmer from HR experts Peninsula gives some advice on what employers can do to better support people facing the menopause.

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Attitudes towards menopause in the workplace are finally changing.

What used to be a taboo subject is now being addressed head-on. Millions of employees who struggle with menopause symptoms everyday are finally becoming more confident when it comes to raising this issue with their employer.

But there’s a still long way to go.

I’m hearing from many businesses who are looking for ways to support their employees who are going through menopause. But one thing that always stands out is their focus on age and gender. Statistically, most people who go through menopause will do so between the ages of 45 and 55. However, it affects everyone differently. So, it’s important that menopause support policies are inclusive.

Premature menopause, or premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), affects roughly 1% of women under the age of 40 and 0.1% of women under 30. Early menopause can also be triggered by other health conditions, such as endometriosis; surgeries, such as the removal of the ovaries; cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy; infections; auto-immune disorders or genetic factors.

Here at Peninsula, we’ve seen this first hand, providing support to employees in their 20’s who have been struggling with symptoms of menopause. It can happen at any age.

Trans men and non-binary employees will also experience menopause symptoms if they still have their ovaries and have not undergone hormone therapy, or if their hormone therapy is interrupted or their hormone levels otherwise change.

Fears of prejudice and stigma may prevent them from talking to their boss or seeking help with menopause symptoms, especially if doing so would mean coming out as trans to their employer. Research also suggests that the average age at which women experience menopause may vary by ethnicity. Women from minority backgrounds may face additional challenges, including being more likely to be in insecure work or on zero-hour contracts, which can make it even more difficult for them to deal with the symptoms or to feel comfortable talking to their employer.

When employers are unsure of the right ways to support these employees, fewer people are likely to speak up. This creates an ongoing cycle – less people speaking up means employers assume everything is ok.

Making adjustments

Many employers have already made proactive changes to their workplace to better support employees going through menopause. Simple adjustments such as implementing flexible working patterns, allowing longer and more frequent breaks, adaptable start and finish times, being open to homeworking or a temporary adjustment of duties can make a huge difference.

Physical changes to the working environment, for example, providing a fan or moving an employee’s desk closer to the window or a water machine, are also ways in which employers can support their employees.

Have an open conversation with your employee and find out what adjustments they need. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every person is different, and everyone will experience menopause differently.

The Equality Act 2010 sets out nine protected characteristics, several of which are relevant when it comes to menopause, and, with a 44% increase in employment tribunals citing menopause in one year alone, it’s important that employers get this right.

What can employers do?

Creating an inclusive, menopause-friendly workspace won’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process.

To help employees overcome the barrier of talking to their boss, consider having Menopause Champions in the workplace. Having the support of fellow employees can make it easier for people to be open about what they are going through.

As well as being someone to talk to, Menopause Champions help feed back to the employer what support practices and policies are working, and which still need some thought. Over time, employees will feel more confident that their workplace is taking these issues seriously and can see that their employer is actively taking steps to improve their lives.

Training has gone a long way towards creating more inclusive workplaces for employees going through menopause, so it stands to reason that by prioritising improving training policies further, we can help those who feel they are being left behind.

Make sure that all training is inclusive, talking about and acknowledging the impact menopause has on employees of all ages as well as trans and non-binary employees. This will help people understand that they are not alone, and that support is available.

Training should also address the stigma faced by the trans community when it comes to menopause, the additional challenges faced by employees from minority backgrounds and those with underlying health conditions. Highlight the importance of breaking down these barriers and look at how other health factors can bring on menopause symptoms, as well as ways employees can get help, both internally and externally.

It’s important to remember that menopause is an ongoing process. Don’t assume that once initial support has been put in place, everything is good. It’s important to regularly reach out to employees to check in. There needs to be follow-up conversations, the frequency of which can depend on each individual, and it’s vital that any adjustments are constantly reviewed.

With approximately 51% of the workforce expected to go through menopause at some point in their lives, it makes sense for employers to ensure the right support is in place. Doing so will improve retention, keeping valued and experienced employees in the workforce, and decrease the risk of ending up on the receiving end of a discrimination claim in Tribunal.

*Kate Palmer is Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula which provides HR and health & safety support for small businesses.

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