Around half of the working population is female, which means that menopause will, at some point, be a normal fact of life for half the workforce. Yet menopause is still a taboo topic corporate Britain, according to new research.
A BBC survey of 1,009 women has found that 70 per cent of respondents did not tell their bosses that they were experiencing menopause. The survey, which asked women how their experience of the menopause had affected their work and relationships, also found that nearly half of the respondents said it had affected their mental health, while 41 per cent said it had affected their job.
Why the secrecy?
Like other elements of female reproductive health such as menstruation and pregnancy, menopause is just not talked about at work. At time when businesses are becoming increasingly inclusive, acknowledging issues like mental health, cancer and learning difficulties are legitimate situations that need attention, it’s time for female reproductive health to be taken into consideration, says GP and menopause expert, Louise Newson. Employers should do more to normalise conversations about menopause in the workplace, she says. “It is a silent issue for too many organisations.”
Common experiences include hot flashes, sleep deprivation, irritability, heavy and painful periods and clots, recurrent urinary tract infections and vaginal itchiness or dryness; understandably, not necessarily boardroom banter. Still, this will inevitably affect more than half the workforce later in life, and as more of UK’s workers expect to stay in their jobs well into their sixties.
What can businesses do?
Enrique Garcia is an employment law consultant for the ELAS Group. He says it’s time for businesses to acknowledge menopause as an occupational health issue that needs to be handled appropriately in the workplace, instead of side-lined as a personal issue that should be hushed up.
“Managers should be properly trained on dealing with sensitive issues such as menopause so that women can feel comfortable in approaching their managers to discuss any problems they are having which are affecting their work,” he says. “Women could also have claims for harassment if they are subject to a derogatory, humiliating or offensive environment.”
Employers can consider occupational health advice for steps they can take in the workplace to assist women who are going through menopause, which may include:
- Regular short breaks to accommodate hot flashes
- Being aware of increased irritability, particularly where the woman has been experiencing flashes or sweats at night leading to sleep deprivation
- Flexibility with absence policies where the woman has had painful periods or clots
- Maintaining good workplace temperatures
“Menopause can interfere with job performance,” he adds. “By making some minor changes and allowances, performance can greatly improve – maximum benefit for minimum cost for the employer whilst also being caring and supportive towards your employees on important issues in the workplace.”