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One in three people in the UK workforce will soon be over 50, and menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the UK workforce. In the UK, we are an ageing population, with fewer new entrants from education joining the workforce because of a long-term decline in the birth rate, organisations need to look after their older employees to have the talent they need to run their businesses.
Many women are being driven from the workplace because they find that adapting problematic symptoms of the menopause around inflexible work expectations is just too difficult. Menopausal women are facing some real challenges in the workplace, and many employers are not really sure what to do to best support them.
Forth carried out a survey to find out just how much the symptoms of the menopause impact life at work for women. They found that 63% of respondents said that their working life had been negatively affected in some way by their symptoms. When asked how menopause affects day-to-day work:
- 58% of the women said that they were still affected by symptoms of the menopause, and that this sometimes caused them problems at work.
- 41% said that their poor concentration or forgetfulness has led them to make more mistakes.
- 40% admitted to losing interest in their job as a result.
- 11% forwent the opportunity for promotion because of the menopause.
- 8% believed that their symptoms played some part in them resigning from their position.
- 24% of respondents had called in sick as a result of the menopause and almost half of those individuals said they had done so more than once.
- 90% of the women who responded to the survey said that their workplace had no help available at all when it came to employees going through the menopause.
- 3% said that their place of employment had policies that had been created to help those struggling with their menopausal symptoms.
Menopause costs the UK economy 14 million working days per year. However, most women find they can manage menopausal symptoms with the help of wellbeing support in the workplace. A good menopause in the workplace policy will highlight how an employer values its employees and recognises the specific problems that women may experience, which could result in greater employee productivity and satisfaction, and an increase in employee retention.
What is the menopause?
Menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive cycle when the ovaries no longer produce eggs and she has had her last menstrual cycle. The diagnosis of menopause is not confirmed until a woman has not had her period for six to twelve consecutive months. The average age for women to reach the menopause in the UK is 51, but this can vary widely, as some women experience early menopause before the age of 40 years.
The menopause usually happens gradually. For a few years before the menopause a woman’s periods may become irregular, happening more or less often than they used to. This transition is known as the perimenopause, and women may notice signs of progression toward menopause, such as menstrual irregularity sometime in their 40s, but some women notice changes as early as their mid-30s.
The level of oestrogen, the main female hormone in a woman’s body, rises and falls unevenly during perimenopause. Their menstrual cycles may lengthen or shorten, and they may begin having menstrual cycles in which their ovaries don’t release an egg, known as ovulation. They may also experience menopause-like symptoms, such as hot flushes, sleep problems and vaginal dryness. Perimenopause can last for about four years, sometimes longer.
Throughout the perimenopause/menopausal transition, some subtle and some not so subtle changes may occur in a woman’s body. These might include, but are not limited to:
- Irregular periods – as ovulation becomes more unpredictable, the length of time between periods may be longer or shorter, the flow may be light to heavy, and the woman may skip some periods. Anyone who has a persistent change of seven days or more in the length of their menstrual cycle may be in early perimenopause. If there is a space of 60 days or more between periods, this is likely to be late perimenopause.
- Hot flushes – these are common during perimenopause. The intensity, length and frequency vary. Sleep problems are often due to hot flushes or night sweats, but sometimes sleep becomes unpredictable even without them.
- Vaginal and bladder problems – when oestrogen levels fall, vaginal tissues may lose lubrication and elasticity, making intercourse painful. Low oestrogen may also leave a woman more vulnerable to urinary or vaginal infections. Loss of tissue tone may contribute to urinary incontinence.
- Reduced libido – the hormonal changes of the menopause can affect sex drive. Women may also have less interest in sex if they have vaginal symptoms that make them feel uncomfortable.
- Decreasing fertility – as ovulation becomes irregular, a woman’s ability to conceive decreases; however, as long as she is having periods, pregnancy is still possible. The use of birth control is advised for 12 months following the last period to avoid pregnancy.
- Loss of bone density – with lower oestrogen levels, a woman may start to lose bone density more quickly than she can replace it, increasing the risk of osteoporosis, a disease that causes brittle bones.
- Mood swings – such as irritability or increased risk of anxiety or depression may happen during perimenopause. The cause of these symptoms may be the hormonal changes of perimenopause and/or sleep disruption associated with hot flushes. Some women may also have difficulty concentrating and have a poor memory.
About 80% of women experience some symptoms of the menopause and one in four women have severe symptoms, including anxiety and depression, which can lead to them being diagnosed with mental health problems and being prescribed drugs.
Menopausal symptoms may also exacerbate existing impairments and conditions that women may already be struggling to cope with.
What is a menopause policy?
A workplace menopause policy is an official, public statement made by the organisation that provides the organisation’s overall commitment to supporting menopausal employees’ health, safety and wellbeing, and ensuring that everyone is treated with dignity and respect. It does this by defining a vision, values, principles and objectives, and by establishing a broad model for action to achieve that vision.
The main aim of a menopause policy is to demonstrate to all employees and also to prospective employees that the wellbeing of menopausal employees is a top priority for the organisation.
Who should have a menopause policy?
The fact that menopause is likely to affect a significant portion of any organisation’s employees, it would be seen to be good business practice for all organisations to create a menopause policy.
Developing and implementing a menopause policy can reassure employees that there is support available by providing an overview of reasonable workplace adjustments that could be made. A policy will also encourage open communication between employees and managers. It is important that women experiencing the menopause know where and who to go to for help and support in the workplace and also feel confident to raise issues in the workplace.
Is a menopause policy required by law?
There is currently no specific legislation that requires employers to have a menopause workplace policy or to protect workers experiencing menopausal symptoms. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (1974) requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all workers. Within this Act, employers are required to perform risk assessments which should include any specific risks to menopausal employees.
The menopause is also an equalities issue. Under the Equality Act (2010), employers have a duty not to discriminate in terms of age, sex and disability. Detrimental treatment related to the menopause could represent direct or indirect sex discrimination on any or all of these protected characteristics.
The recent statistics regarding tribunal claims referencing menopause should also be considered, as employment tribunals involving menopause increased by 44% in 2021, with 23 cases referencing it compared to 16 the previous year, according to analysis of court data. This included 16 tribunals claiming disability discrimination, 14 claiming unfair dismissal and 10 claiming sex discrimination. The word menopause itself was mentioned 207 times in tribunal documents in 2021, an increase of 75% from the 118 mentions the year before (Source People Management).
By having a clear menopause policy and procedures to follow, not only is it likely to reduce the risks of grievances and discrimination claims, but it is also likely to improve the working environment and enhance employee retention and productivity when issues caused by menopause are properly addressed.
How to write a menopause policy
There really is no “one size fits all” solution in good policy writing. Policies and procedures can be straightforward to develop; however, you must first carefully consider the specific needs of your organisation and its employees.
In creating your policy, you want to develop an effective document that works for your organisation and your employees, so it makes sense to involve any employees currently experiencing the menopause as they will be able to offer a unique perspective.
A good policy should be clear and simple to use. Don’t make it too lengthy – keep it concise, practical and easy to use. The aim is for your policy to publicly state your organisation’s position on the menopause and to be a “go to” document that employees regularly refer to when they need guidance of what to do to either request or provide support for employees experiencing the menopause.
The key sections that a menopause policy might include:
- A clear title for the policy – choose a policy title that works for your organisation and clearly defines what the policy is all about.
- A policy statement – the policy statement should publicly state the organisation’s commitment to providing support to employees experiencing the menopause. It should acknowledge the organisation’s responsibilities for the safety, health and wellbeing of its employees and summarise what the organisation will do to promote a positive attitude towards the menopause and any employees experiencing the menopause. It should explain why this is important to the organisation and include a statement of who was consulted in the development of the policy.
- Purpose of the policy – explain what the policy sets out to achieve, the aim and the objectives. Use clear language so that everyone who reads the policy understands the policy’s principles.
- The policy scope – this should detail all the people the policy applies to. It should also detail all other organisational/HR policies that the policy should be read and used in conjunction with, for example, but not limited to:
– Health and Safety at Work
– Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
– Dignity at Work (Bullying and Harassment)
– Sick Absence
– Flexible Working.
- Exceptions to the policy – detail any exceptions; if there are none, then state no exceptions.
- Legal framework – describe the laws that govern the policy, together with the statutory regulations that apply, for example, but not limited to:
– Health and Safety at Work etc. 1974
– The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
– The Equality Act 2010 – although currently menopause is not a protected characteristic, discrimination may occur under other protected characteristics
– Data Protection Act 1998 and the GDPR.
- Definitions – clearly explain what wellbeing and the menopause is. Describe the meaning of any terminology used in the policy around the menopause as it can sometimes be quite confusing. This is because terminology is not always used in a consistent manner. This might include, but is not limited to:
– Menopause – the menopause is a natural part of ageing and refers to the time in life when periods stop and the natural reproductive cycle ends. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 with the average age being 51.
– Premature ovarian insufficiency (early menopause) – approximately 1 in 100 affected people will experience menopause before 40 years of age, naturally or as an effect of a medical condition or treatment.
– Perimenopause – the time leading up to menopause when menopausal symptoms can be experienced. Symptoms can start a few months or even years before periods stop.
– Post-menopause – the time after the last period.
It will also be useful to users of this policy to explain some of the symptoms of the menopause such as:
- Irregular periods – The first sign that menopause is approaching is usually periods occurring less regularly. They may come more or less frequently than usual, and they may be heavier or lighter. Anyone who has a persistent change of seven days or more in the length of their menstrual cycle, may be in early perimenopause. If there is a space of 60 days or more between periods, this is likely to be late perimenopause. Anyone who has concerns about menstrual changes should see a doctor, as these changes can also indicate pregnancy or some health issues.
- Hot flushes – Hot flushes are common around the time of menopause. They cause a person to feel a sudden sensation of heat in the upper body. The sensation may start in the face, neck, or chest and progress upward or downward. A hot flush can also cause sweating, red patches to form on the skin. some people experience night sweats and cold flushes, or chills, in addition to or instead of hot flushes. Hot flashes usually occur in the first year after menstruation ends, but they can continue for up to 14 years after menopause.
- Vaginal and bladder problems – Vaginal dryness, itching, and discomfort may start during perimenopause and continue into menopause. Low oestrogen may also leave a woman more vulnerable to urinary or vaginal infections. Loss of tissue tone may contribute to urinary incontinence.
- Loss of bone density – with lower oestrogen levels, a woman may start to lose bone density more quickly than she can replace it, increasing the risk of osteoporosis, a disease that causes brittle bones, this is a long-term condition in which bone strength and density decrease.
- Sleep disturbances – sleep problems can arise during menopause, and they may stem from anxiety, night sweats and an increased need to urinate.
- Mood swings – Depression, anxiety, and low mood are common during menopause. It is not unusual to experience times of irritability and crying spells. While feelings of sadness, irritability, and tiredness are common during menopause, they do not necessarily indicate depression. Some women may also have difficulty concentrating, and have a poor memory.
Key people – list all roles and responsibilities within the policy together with their contact details, for example, but not limited to:
- Executive Policy Owner – overall responsibility for the policy.
- Operational Policy Owner – responsible for implementation and maintaining the policy.
- Human Resources – offering support to managers and employees on the interpretation of the policy; promoting awareness-raising activities including training and education for employees and managers.
- Line Managers – familiarising themselves with the menopause policy; being willing to have open discussions with employees about changes in their health including issues relating to the menopause, treating the discussion sensitively and recognising that each individual’s experience may differ; ensuring ongoing communication and agreeing a plan for review where appropriate; implementing any agreed reasonable adjustments; monitoring adjustments and reviewing where appropriate; encouraging the employee to discuss any relevant health concerns with their GP practice; providing details of support and external services available.
- Employees – taking reasonable responsibility and care for their own health and wellbeing; being open to having conversations with managers – if for any reason they feel unable to speak to their manager they can also speak to Human Resources; implementing the policy by upholding a positive working environment and treating others with dignity and respect.
- Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Adviser(s) if applicable.
- First Aider(s).
- Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) / Occupational Health adviser (s) if applicable.
Actions or procedures – how the organisation will implement the aim and objectives of the policy, for example:
- Making reasonable adjustments.
- Raising organisational awareness on the menopause, symptoms and possible effects.
- Providing training for line managers.
- Providing guidance for managers’ discussions with employees.
Duty of care statement – outline the duty of care owed by the organisation to the workforce.
- Training – detail all training provided to all employees to implement the policy and any specialist training provided for line managers.
- Confidentiality – detail how the organisation maintains confidentiality and how it will comply with data protection law when dealing with menopause information.
- Governance requirements – specify who is responsible for ensuring the policy is implemented and monitored. Specify who is accountable for ensuring the organisation complies with its legal obligations contained in the policy, and when the policy will be reviewed and updated.
- Communication plan – think carefully about how to share the policy with colleagues. Examples may include, but are not limited to:
– Including information about the policy as part of induction for all new employees.
– Emailing a copy or direct link to the policy to all employees – do not expect them to find it online.
– Including a policy overview in an employee handbook.
– Introducing the policy as part of a menopause awareness session – leave plenty of time for questions.
– Putting the policy on the organisation’s public-facing website.
What support should a menopause policy include?
Employers are required to carry out risk assessments under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which should include any specific risks to menopausal employees and ensure that the working environment will not make their symptoms worse. The results of these risk assessments will inform you as an employer as to what specific reasonable adjustments you will need to make for employees experiencing menopause.
Some of the workplace issues that employers should consider and address for menopausal women include:
- Women experiencing daytime sweats, hot flushes, facial redness and palpitations – this may cause women to feel self-conscious, or the sensation may affect their concentration or train of thought. Employers should consider being flexible about additional breaks, allowing time out and access to fresh air, having a quiet space available, providing cover if required so that employees can leave their posts when they need to. Unsuitable uniforms may also cause discomfort and some uniform material may add to body temperature, so employers could consider some flexibility.
- Women experiencing night-time sweats, hot flushes and insomnia or sleep disturbance – these women may benefit from a temporary adjustment of their working hours to accommodate any difficulties, or flexible working. It can help to provide flexibility in tasks/duties allowing adjustments to workload or performance management targets. Some women who need to take additional sick absence should be reassured that they will not be penalised or suffer detriment.
- Women experiencing irregular and/or heavy periods, or urinary problems; for example, increased frequency, urgency, and increased risk of urinary infections – women should have easy access to well-maintained toilet and washroom or shower facilities with readily available sanitary products. They will also require allowances for more frequent breaks in work to go to the toilet/washroom and cover should be provided if needed so women can leave their posts. Women in peripatetic roles may require more flexibility in their schedules to allow them to access facilities during their working day. Some women may need to drink more fluids, so ensure easy access to a supply of cold drinking water. Some women may feel unwell, so be aware of a potential additional need for sick absence and reassure women that they will not be penalised or suffer detriment if they need to take sick absence.
- Women experiencing skin irritation, dryness or itching may be exacerbated by working conditions and temperatures, so employers should monitor working temperatures and humidity to ensure that they are comfortable.
- Women experiencing muscular aches and bone and joint pains may find that work involving repetitive movements, adopting static postures, or lifting and moving objects is more uncomfortable and there may be an increased risk of injury. Employers should make any necessary adjustments through the review of risk assessments and work schedules/tasks and keep these under review.
- Women experiencing dry eyes and/or headaches may find that these are aggravated by, for example, workplace temperatures/humidity, poor air quality, exposure to chemicals, artificial lighting, and excessive screen work. Employers should update Display Screen Equipment (DSE) and stress risk assessments when there is a change in circumstances and permit additional rest breaks.
There will be some women who may suffer from psychological symptoms during the menopause, such as:
- Panic attacks.
- Mood changes.
- Loss of confidence.
- Memory problems (brain fog).
- Difficulty concentrating.
These symptoms of menopause can have wide-ranging negative effects on mental and physical health and wellbeing, and also work performance and workplace relationships may be affected. For some women, certain tasks may become more difficult to carry out temporarily, which may be compounded by lack of sleep and fatigue, their performance may be affected and they may begin to suffer work-related stress as a consequence.
Employers can also add external support contact details for employees experiencing menopause, such as:
How often should a menopause policy be reviewed?
HR policies such as a menopause policy should be reviewed annually or, should there be amendments or changes to the law that change the meaning of the policy, at that time to reflect those changes. Any interim changes, such as minor title changes, that do not change the meaning of the policy should be undertaken by the operational owner as and when they occur. Any substantial changes required that alter the meaning of the policy should be submitted via the executive policy owner for full approval.
There are many compelling reasons for supporting employees experiencing menopause in the workplace. It supports an inclusive culture and is good for all employees, it is good for an employer’s brand and is part of future-proofing their organisation. Creating and implementing a workplace menopause policy publicly demonstrates an employer’s commitment to supporting employees experiencing menopause. As well as creating a menopause policy, employers should also menopause impact assess all other workplace and HR policies to ensure that they do not unfairly impact menopausal employees.