Menopause support at work: how to get it right

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Getting menopause support at work right is a long-term, company-wide project. From menopause training to creating a policy, here are six steps to success

We all know someone who has been through, will experience, or is currently going through menopause – but what do you really know about how it affects the person experiencing it, or how to create better menopause support at work?

Reproductive health is still a taboo subject in the workplace, yet the effects of the menopause can adversely affect performance. In fact, the careers of an estimated 1.2 million people in the UK have been negatively impacted by menopausal symptoms, according to a 2023 CIPD study.

With just 40% of women aged 50-64 in full-time work in the UK (compared with 66% of men in the same age group), the lack of comprehensive menopause support at work arguably has a significant impact on employers’ ability to recruit and retain older women.

Here, we’ll outline what the menopause is, the common symptoms likely to affect workers, and how employers can offer better menopause support at work. This blog post should not be taken as medical advice; please consult a medical expert if your menopause symptoms are unmanageable or are negatively affecting your quality of life.

In this article:

 

What is the menopause?

It’s when the menstrual cycle stops because the ovaries are no longer producing eggs. When discussing menopause support at work, it’s important to be clear about the various stages of menopause:

  • Perimenopause: the period of time when you experience symptoms of menopause but your periods continue
  • Menopause: an individual reaches menopause (and perimenopause ends) when they have not had a period for 12 months. It can happen naturally (usually affecting women between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can also happen much earlier), or for medical reasons (such as following a hysterectomy)
  • Post-menopause: any time after the menopause

Perimenopause and menopause are natural processes that affect all people who menstruate (women, trans men, and non-binary people) as oestrogen levels in the body decline. Although the average age that women reach menopause in the UK is 51, it can happen at any point once menstruation cycles start. The Daisy Network says early menopause begins before the age of 45. If menopause occurs before the age of 40, is known as premature ovarian insufficiency (POI). About 5% of the UK population is affected by spontaneous (natural) menopause before 45.

 

What are the symptoms of menopause?

The symptoms of perimenopause vary from person-to-person – there is no ‘standard’ experience. They can include:

  • Cognitive and psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, brain fog, depression, mood swings, and irritability
  • Vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flushes and night sweats
  • Genito-urinary problems, such as incontinence and urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Musculoskeletal issues, such as achy joints and a decline in bone density
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Noise sensitivity
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches

The wide range of symptoms and their duration can make it difficult for perimenopausal women to remain in work without sufficient support. According to a 2023 NHS guide, three-quarters (77%) of women experience menopause symptoms; a quarter of these women classify their symptoms as “severe”. Nearly two-thirds (69%) suffer anxiety or depression related to menopause, 84% experience sleep problems, and 73% experience brain fog.

 

How long do menopause symptoms last?

The duration of menopause symptoms will vary from individual to individual; some symptoms might last for just a few months, while others may persist for a few years. You might also find that your symptoms change over time.

 

What should a menopause at work policy cover?

Speaking to Ciphr in an October 2023 webinar, Jo Fuller, founder of The Merry Menopause, recommended that organisations create a specific menopause policy that is separate to their existing sickness absence policy.

“Your policy should offer guidance for line managers and employees, and offer practical support,” said Fuller. “And it should also be easily accessible, well signposted, and regularly updated.”

Fuller also recommended that the policy cover menopause-related sickness absence, “so you don’t unfairly penalise someone who is experiencing ongoing symptoms,” and the provision of reasonable adjustments so someone who is experiencing menopause symptoms can continue to work to the best of their ability.

This free template from Balance, a menopause support app, is a good place to start if you want to create your own menopause at work policy.

 

Six tips for offering better menopause support at work

You’ll need to take a multi-faceted approach to offering menopause support at work if you really want to make an impact. Here are six ways to get started.

 

1. Create a menopause at work policy

The first step in offering greater menopause support at work should be creating a policy, as mentioned above. Many organisations overlook this fundamental pillar – in fact, 50% of women over 45 surveyed in 2023 by Perspectus said their workplace does not have a menopause policy; a further 40% have ‘no clue’ if theirs does.

Make sure that the policy’s launch is well-communicated to all employees, regardless of gender, age, or career seniority. The policy should be easy to find, regularly reviewed and updated, and, ideally, part of the suite of policies that you require employees to read and accept. Ciphr’s HR software, for example, enables you to issue policies (including updated versions) and require employees to digitally ‘accept’ them. You can then report on who has read and accepted particular policies, and when.

 

2. Offer reasonable adjustments and greater flexibility

Menopause is covered under the 2010 Equality Act, so your organisation should offer reasonable adjustments to those who experience symptoms.

The Society of Occupational Medicine suggests:

  • Reviewing workplace temperature and ventilation. Offer desk fans, plus the chance to relocate near an opening window and/or away from a heat source
  • Ensuring access to cold drinking water
  • Having convenient washroom and changing facilities
  • Allowing uniform flexibility, eg thermally comfortable fabrics and optional layers
  • Providing rest areas and spaces to walk around during breaks, and a quiet room to help manage more severe symptoms

Flexible and remote working can also help. Be mindful that those struggling with menopause symptoms such as ‘brain fog’, painful muscles, heavy bleeding, or migraines may need extra breaks or time away from their desks to manage their symptoms. Working from home can be especially beneficial. For those really struggling with symptoms, reducing their hours or going part time can help them remain in work – and your organisation to retain all their knowledge and experience.

Think about how technology can help, too. Recording online calls and generating an automatic transcript (a function available in platforms such as Microsoft Teams) can help those who struggle with brain fog to keep on top of conversations and tasks.

 

3. Offer menopause at work training for all employees

One of the reasons why menopause support at work is often poor is because of a lack of awareness and education. That’s why it’s important to offer menopause at work training for all your employees, regardless of their gender, age, or seniority level. Comprehensive training will also help protect your organisation from legal risk: in October 2023, for example, an office manager was awarded £37,000 by an employment tribunal following harassment and unfair dismissal related to menopause.

Make a difference to your people (and mitigate risk) by turning to a training provider you can trust. Marshall E-Learning, part of the Ciphr Group, offers a comprehensive menopause eLearning course that is suitable for all employees. The module helps to break down taboos, and educate your staff about the impact of menopause symptoms and how line managers can support their people. Want to find out more? Click here to claim your free trial now.

 

4. Create an inclusive culture

One of the best ways to offer menopause support at work is to break down the stigma associated with talking about it and create a more inclusive culture. If you’ve already created a policy and offered training, then you’re well on your way to doing that.

But more informal efforts can make a big difference, too. Arranging casual chats on the topic – whether in person or virtually – can help colleagues connect with others who are experiencing similar difficulties, share advice, and feel less alone and more understood. These discussions might even evolve into more formal support networks or even buddy systems. Here at Ciphr, for example, we’ve recently started a monthly ‘meno-coffee chat’ – with people meeting virtually and in the office – and a dedicated Microsoft Teams chat, where people can share stories and tips for managing symptoms.

 

5. Promote health-related benefits

Some women report months-long waits to receive treatment for menopausal symptoms on the NHS so if your organisation offers health and wellbeing benefits, make sure they are well-publicised and well-used. Some health providers, for example, offer access to remote GPs – at any time of the day or night – who can prescribe medications such as HRT. Others might even provide access to specialist women’s health professionals.

Health cash plans can also be used to fund complimentary therapies for menopause-related conditions such as headaches and muscle pain, or to enable access to counsellors for support with anxiety or depression.

 

6. Use HR software to track and report on menopause-related absence

You’re probably already reporting on general volumes of sickness absence in your organisation – but do you know how menopause is affecting your people and their ability to work? Ciphr’s absence management software enables you to define your own categories of sickness absence – meaning you could accurately report on the prevalence of menopause-related absence. With Ciphr’s HRIS system, you can also set up return-to-work (RTW) interview forms, which guide managers through the RTW process and prompts them to consider if reasonable adjustments are required to keep employees in work, healthy and well.

Interested in seeing how Ciphr could help your organisation with absence management?

 

Effective menopause support at work is an ongoing project

Offering good menopause support at work isn’t just about creating and issuing a policy, and insisting on a mandatory training course. Effective support requires cultivating an open, inclusive culture, and ending the taboo of talking about menopause. HR software has a role in this – in helping you understand the scale of any menopause-related sickness absence, and guiding managers through effective conversations.

If you’re looking for an HR solutions partners that understands how to help you leverage the data in your HR system and help you create a supportive workplace culture through off-the-shelf eLearning courses, look no further than Ciphr.

Or, if you want to delve further into creating a menopause-friendly workplace, watch our on-demand webinar:

 

This article was first published in June 2019. It was updated in October 2023 for freshness, clarity, and accuracy.