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The lack of support for women going through the menopause can lead to many leaving their job or reducing their hours, but companies are now trying to change that.
Menopause in the workplace has risen up the HR agenda in recent years and now Parliament is taking an interest.
The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee recently launched an inquiry regarding the treatment of women going through menopause in the workplace.
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, says: “Women going through menopause are protected from discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of their age, sex or disability. However, many workers feel that current legislation does not go far enough to support and protect women in the workplace during this difficult time in their lives. As a result, many experienced and highly skilled women feel they have no choice but to leave their professions.”
She adds: “It remains to be seen whether the Government will decide to change the law on this issue. However, taking a positive and proactive approach to managing the menopause at work can certainly help employers to retain valued staff, attract new talent, boost productivity and improve workers’ wellbeing.”
Another sign of progress is the recent launch by the European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS) of an online resource about menopause in the workplace. The website includes global recommendations, research, infographics and statistics, self-assessment tools and guidelines for a menopause-friendly workplace.
One company leading progress in the field is the British retailer Next.
The catalyst for this was when Next was nominated for a wellbeing award in March 2019. Health and wellbeing manager Claire Kershaw says they looked at what the winning companies were doing and noticed that one issue they were highlighting was the support they provided on the menopause.
“We realised that we needed to do something,” says Kershaw. “We already had things in place to support people, but we didn’t actually promote it or provide many resources.”
They brought all the information and resources aimed at supporting women through the menopause together and launched an event at their head office to promote it. “I thought this is going to go either really terribly or we’re going to get a lot of people. Fortunately, many people came forward to talk to us,” recalls Kershaw.
“It wasn’t just women, it was men as well. They manage people who go through menopause; they live with people who are going through menopause, or they’ve got friends who are going through the menopause,” she adds. “So it was actually really well received – much better than we could have imagined.”
Because of the difficulty of reaching out to every employee across the 540 stores in the UK, Next used its internal communication channel to get the message out. A few months ago Kershaw launched a menopause forum on the channel so that employees can chat about menopause. It didn’t take long after her first post for the forum to take off to the point that Kershaw’s intervention was no longer as necessary as she had expected it to be.
“I literally don’t get a chance to speak because as soon as someone puts their comments on it people are ready to recommend something. That’s amazing because menopause ladies just want to talk to people who are experiencing the same thing. So it’s almost like a little self-help group,” says Kershaw.
They have received positive feedback from users, who appreciate the support provided and the sense of a network that has been created and do not feel alone any more.
At the moment, Next does not have a formal menopause policy in place, but Kershaw says that it will probably be the next step for the company. They are now working with another company that provides employee-friendly accreditation which will then allow them to have more structured guidelines across their stores.
Offering direct support to menopausal workers is only one of the steps companies can take. In order to truly make a difference Next realises that it is important to include everyone in the conversation.
When they first launched the forum, Kershaw recalls men and younger female employees questioning why they had been added to it. But she stresses the importance of training managers to recognise and deal with menopausal signs.
Also, it’s never too early to educate yourself about the symptoms and impact too. Early menopause is an issue some women might experience and Laura, a Next employee, has spoken out about the impact it has on her. In Laura’s case early menopause ran in her family and this helped her understand the symptoms and how to deal with them.
The most common symptoms related to menopause are hot flushes and loss of periods, but there are many more, such as anxiety, more frequent menstrual cycles and problems with memory and concentration. Raising awareness can increase knowledge about the issue and strengthen the support available in the workplace.
“Women need to understand the process while men need to understand and support,” says Laura. “Whether that’s as a partner or a manager or a colleague, it’s all about awareness and knowing how to deal with the symptoms or make reasonable adjustments.”
In general, being open about menopause can help employees to feel less excluded. “It’s a bit like mental health in the way that people didn’t talk about it and it was very much of a taboo subject,” says Kershaw.
“I think the fact that Next are talking about it, that we are raising awareness, that we are being open to talk about it and celebrate it […]the fact that we’re prepared to stand up and speak about it makes women feel that it’s okay and that if they are struggling, they can speak to their manager and they can be open about how they’re feeling.”
Besides having a policy and raising awareness, Kershaw stresses the importance of making concrete changes to support workers, particularly in the working environment.
Some small actions companies can take include providing employees with fans or a location close to a window if possible or giving them breaks to recharge when dealing with menopausal symptoms. Also, offering other resources like how to prepare for a GP appointment, talking to experts and recommending helpful changes in their lifestyle can help.
Kershaw believes that working from home is a great benefit for women going through menopause. They can wear more comfortable clothes, sit in cooler areas of the house or go on short walks to clear their minds.
Similar to other issues discussed on workingwise.co.uk , it is important for employers to make reasonable adjustments based on each individual’s situation, given symptoms vary. However, having general guidelines in place, as well as being aware of menopause, can be very beneficial for female workers, improving their wellbeing in the office and promoting a less discriminatory work environment.