Menopause in the Workplace

by Pat Duckworth

As a manager, what do I need to do?

The issue of menopause could become a managerial issue if

  • An employee approaches you and mentions that she is experiencing menopausal symptoms that are affecting her performance at work
  • You become aware of changes in a colleague’s performance or attendance which may be due to menopausal symptoms.

Physical symptoms can include

  • Hot flushes
  • Poor or interrupted sleep
  • Weight change
  • Migraine
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Heart pounding
  • Irregular periods
  • Heavier/lighter periods
  • Breast tenderness
  • Abdominal bloating.

Emotional symptoms can include

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Forgetfulness
  • Stress/anxiety.

Changes in your female colleague’s behaviour that you may become aware of include

  • Longer or more frequent toilet breaks
  • An increase in sickness absence
  • Decrease in performance not explained by other circumstances
  • Poorer relationships with other team members.

As with any other staff wellbeing issue, you need to deal with it so that you can support the employee and mitigate any effects on performance. Do not leave having the conversation until you are having a scheduled performance review.

Remember that every woman’s experience of menopause is unique, so don’t start the conversation by saying that you know what they going through because of what happened to you/your mother/your sister and so on.

Remember also that the signs you have noticed may not be connected with menopause, so do not leap to that conclusion. However, the more you understand the symptoms and the sorts of adjustments your colleague might need, the better prepared you will be for the conversation.

Discussing the issue

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. Choose the time and place carefully. You need somewhere that is appropriate for a personal and sensitive conversation. Prepare for the meeting by reading more about menopausal symptoms. Make sure that you are aware of your organisation’s policies in respect of employee health and wellbeing.

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.

If the person does not want to discuss anything, let them know that they can come and talk to you at any time. Make a note that you have made the offer of a discussion.

If the person does want to talk to you about what they are experiencing, gather as much information as you can. Take the opportunity to ask them what help or support they need at work or if they need any adjustments to their working environment. If they mention something that you are not sure about, be prepared to say that you will need to seek further advice. Take your time and, at the end of the meeting, summarise the actions you have both agreed to take and the timescale for implementation. Finish by thanking the person.

Sample conversations

Below are some sample conversation openers.

  1. Manager initiating a conversation with an employee:

I have asked to see you because I’d like to talk to you about some changes in your performance at work. In recent weeks, I have noticed that you have been away from your desk more often and for longer than usual. There has been a slight dip in your output, nothing serious, but I want to know if there is anything that I can help you with?

  1. Manager having a return-to-work meeting with an employee who has had several absences from work:

It’s good to see you back at work. How are you? Did you go to see your doctor? Is there an underlying medical condition that is causing your absences? Is there anything I can do to help you? Are there any adjustments we can make to your workstation that would help you?

  1. Employee initiating the conversation with male manager:

Employee: I feel a bit embarrassed, but I’d appreciate a discussion with you about some health issues I have been experiencing. I’m not ill; it’s to do with my menopause.

Manager: That’s fine. Feel free to tell me whatever you need to so that we can discuss how we can support you at work.

Or

Manager: I am happy to discuss this with you, unless you would feel more comfortable talking to a female colleague?

  1. Manager unprepared for the conversation:

Can you give me half an hour before we have this conversation? I am in the middle of some work that I need to complete. After that I can totally focus on what you have to say and how we can support you.

After the meeting

Following the conversation, make sure that you carry out the actions that you have agreed to within the timescale agreed.

Where can I seek help for an employee?

The help that an employee may need depends on how the issue is affecting them. Possible sources of assistance include

  • GP
  • Occupational health nurse
  • Welfare representative
  • Trade union representative
  • Health and Safety Officer
  • NHS website.