Menopause in the Workplaceby Pat Duckworth
In a nutshell
1. What is menopause?
Menopause is the term that is generally used to refer to the years of women’s lives on each side of their last menstrual period. Technically speaking, this is the ‘perimenopause’. Menopause is actually defined as the time of a woman’s last menstrual period.
- Menopause can occur as early as age 45 or not until 55.
- Perimenopause can start from age 40 and last 15 to 20 years.
- ‘Premature ovarian failure’ (POF) or ‘premature menopause’ occurs before the age of 40 and can be precipitated by illnesses and medical interventions, including radiotherapy and hysterectomy.
- The male equivalent to menopause is known as ‘andropause’.
2. Typical symptoms
Being aware of the typical physical and emotional symptoms will enable you to identify members of staff who may need support. Every individual’s experience of menopause is unique and possible physical or emotional symptoms include
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Poor or interrupted sleep
- Weight change
- Dizziness or faintness
- Heart pounding
- Irregular periods
- Heavier/lighter periods
- Breast tenderness
- Abdominal bloating
- Mood swings
3. Possible impact at work
Menopause is not a ‘soft’ issue. The range of physical and emotional symptoms that can arise during the years of menopause may have an impact on performance, attendance and relationships at work.
- Hot desking may mean that a woman has nowhere to store tampons.
- Protective uniform may become uncomfortable during hot flushes.
- There may be similar problems for such individuals who work in ‘clean’ areas, with set break times and limited access to rest facilities for ‘cooling off’.
- For women whose work involves a lot of standing, heavy bleeding can cause discomfort and embarrassment.
- Some women find that the physical and emotional symptoms of menopause detract from their ability to cope with work situations, leading to stress.
- Some women and men experience mood swings during the perimenopause/andropause, and this can lead to depression.
- In cases where the individual experiences intense, debilitating symptoms, you may be required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ under the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act.
4. Bullying and harassment
Women going through perimenopause, particularly those experiencing visible symptoms, can find themselves subjected to insensitive and joking remarks from colleagues or even comments about their personal hygiene.
- Bullying and harassment is any action or behaviour that is deemed unacceptable by the victim.
- If this type of behaviour is not addressed by the manager, it can exacerbate the victim’s menopause symptoms.
- The impact on the organisation can extend to loss of team morale, lost productivity, higher rates of sickness absence and litigation.
The type of treatment provided will depend on the nature and intensity of the symptoms being presented, medical history and client preferences. Treatment options include
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Bio-Identical Hormone Therapy
- Tibolone (similar to HRT)
- Vaginal lubricants.
6. Complementary and alternative therapies
For some women, either medical treatments are not suitable or they prefer not to use them. Complementary and alternative therapies can provide relief of symptoms. These include
- Food supplements
- Herbal remedies
7. Practical measures
There are also practical steps that women can take to mitigate their symptoms including:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Stop smoking
- Limit alcohol intake.
8. Relevant legislation
Managers need to be aware of the various pieces of employment legislation that can be applied to issues with menopause:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- The Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, as amended
- The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, as amended, together with specific assessments for users of VDUs
- The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Regulations 1992, as amended
- The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) may apply
- The Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) 1975 may be applied where women feel that they are receiving unfair treatment or being harassed
- The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006
- The Working Time Regulations.
9. As a manager, what do I need to do?
If you decide you need to handle the issue, make notes about clear, specific examples of, for example, increased sickness absence, poor performance and so on.
- The first step is to invite the employee to come and see you for an informal chat.
- At the meeting, start by reassuring the person that there is nothing ‘wrong’ and then tell them what you have observed specific facts about their behaviour, performance or attendance.
- Do not mention the word ‘menopause’ unless the person tells you that that is what the issue is.
- Follow up by asking them if there is anything that you can help them with or if there is anything that they want to discuss.