One of the questions I get asked frequently by clients is ‘do we need a dedicated menopause policy?’.
My answer tends to be ‘it depends’.
It will depend on the size and culture of the organisation, however there are very many benefits to having a formalised policy or at least guidance that employees can access to get advice and support whether they’re experiencing menopause related issues or managing someone going through menopause.
At the moment there is no legal requirement for organisations to have a menopause policy however it is certainly good practice as it provides a framework that acknowledges menopause as an ED&I, health and safety, occupational health and management issue.
It may be that existing policies such as absence management, performance management and health and safety are already in place, and some minor adjustment to include the impact of menopause may be all that is necessary. However, these changes need to be clearly articulated across the organisation so that it is easy for employees and managers to access the information they need, rather than it being hidden inside a general policy.
A separate document containing information and signposting specifically relating to menopause is likely to be more effective and less ambiguous.
Where to Start
Begin by carrying out an examination of current policies and practices through the lens of menopause. Consider where existing policies and practices may be inadvertently disadvantaging those employees experiencing perimenopause and menopause and consider how they can be amended to ensure that there is no potential for discrimination.
Consider how easy it is for managers to find the information and guidance they need in order to feel confident that they are providing the best support possible.
Consider what training is available for managers to enable them to feel confident having conversations about menopause, what they are able to provide in terms of reasonable adjustments and what signposting there is to further help such as Occupational Health or Employee Assistance Programmes.
Look at the working environment, perhaps bringing in experts in Health and Safety to consider where working practices may exacerbate menopause related symptoms. This might include looking at ventilation and heating, uniform constraints, working patterns, access to toilet and washroom facilities and rest rooms.
Look at the demographic within the organisation. The average age for women to go through menopause in the UK (menopause is classed as 12 months and 1 day after a woman’s last menstrual period) is 51 with the majority of women reaching menopause somewhere between 45 and 55. It is worth noting that certain medical conditions may mean women menopause much younger than this. It is important therefore not to make assumptions or to stereotype. It is also important to understand that the period leading up to menopause, known as perimenopause, can start as early as 10 years prior to menopause and it is during this perimenopausal period that many women become symptomatic.
Start by taking a proactive approach to creating a culture of openness around menopause. Make it known that as an organisation you support diversity and inclusion and that this includes menopause. Start developing communications that talk about menopause. Ask employees about their experiences of menopause and be prepared to listen to find out what they want. If you have existing women’s networks or health and wellbeing networks consider gathering feedback or holding focus groups.
What to Put Into A Menopause Policy
If you do decide that a formal policy is the way forward, it is important to take a holistic approach.
Include areas such as absence management, performance management, flexible working, health and safety and ED&I.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests covering key areas that include:
A Statement of Principles, which explains how the organisation and senior leaders are committed to supporting menopause within the workplace and why menopause impacts everyone within the organisation.
The Policy Objectives, including the drivers behind developing policy and the key outcomes such as creating a more open and inclusive culture where employees experiencing menopause feel supported.
Definitions and Symptoms, which explain an overview of the range and impact of symptoms with an emphasis on recognising that all women will experience menopause differently and that symptoms will fluctuate in type and severity over time throughout the menopause transition.
Key Responsibilities, explaining who has ownership of different aspects of the policy including senior managers, line managers, HR, H&S, employees and OH.
Activities and Initiatives, this might include whether training is mandated or voluntary, who will receive training, what risk assessments will be carried out, for example stress risk assessments, uniform reviews, marketing campaigns, support groups etc.
Signposting, pointing to additional support and resources such as OH, employee assistance programmes, internal support networks, external support groups and websites.
It is important to ensure that any policy is broad enough to allow for the vast range of symptoms that can be experienced. There are nearly 40 symptoms, some physical such as hot flushes, headaches and fatigue, some psychological such as memory issues, anxiety and depression and some emotional, including low mood, tearfulness and rage. Since not all women will experience symptoms, and symptoms may come and go throughout the menopause transition (which can last around 6-10 years) it is recommended that organisations adopt a ‘cafeteria’ approach where there are a range of options available to support menopause. These could be for example flexible working hours or uniform exemptions.
Key Areas to Consider in a Menopause Policy
Menopause symptoms vary enormously and can last a considerable amount of time. It is important that menopause is treated as a long-term health condition and not assessed as lots of individual short-term issues.
Consider having an absence coding that recognises menopause as an umbrella condition for absence reporting purposes. Managers should treat sick absence related to menopause as a series of separate short-term absences relating to a longer-term health condition in the same way as any other long-term health condition.
Managers should be trained to hold effective return to work interviews to assess any adjustments that may need to be put in place. The emphasis for the return to work interview should be on providing support to enable the employee to have a sustainable return to work. Interviews should be supportive and empathetic
Managers should be encouraged to refer to Occupational Health for expert advice and support in developing effective solutions to enable women experiencing menopause related symptoms to continue to be productive.
Ensure that performance management is supportive rather than punitive. Managers should be trained to have effective conversations in which they can ascertain what help and support is required and consider any health-related factors that may be impacting performance. Performance management should have a positive focus and it is important that managers do not make negative assumptions or stereotype but manage dips in performance in the same way they would address any other health-related performance issues.
In the vast majority of cases reasonable adjustments are cost neutral, simple and quick to implement. Managers should be open and flexible when considering reasonable adjustments which may include:
- Temporary redistribution of workload
- Stress assessments
- Flexible working
- Temporary redeployment
- Enabling additional breaks
- Relaxing uniform requirements
- Relocating closer to a window or fresh air
- Allowing unrestricted toilet breaks
- Providing a desk fan
Health and Safety
Employers have a legal duty to safeguard the health and wellbeing of their employees. The menopause can create a vast range of symptoms which may impact safety including fatigue, anxiety and stress. Organisations should have risk assessments in place to deal with menopause related safety issues where appropriate. This could include looking at the working environment, working conditions, processes and practices that may adversely impact or exacerbate symptoms.
While there is no legal requirement for organisations to have a policy in place specifically covering menopause in the workplace, it is without doubt good practice.
A policy provides reassurance to employees that the organisation cares about and supports its people. It provides managers with clarity and direction to know how best to support the people working for them and enables female colleagues to feel confident asking for help and support.
The key to implementing a successful menopause policy is to include it as just one element in a wider menopause agenda. Starting with a clear message from senior leadership that they are committed to an open and inclusive culture that includes those experiencing menopause, to the provision of formal training for all employees, but especially people managers. Including menopause in health and wellbeing programmes, raising awareness through poster campaigns and engaging with women’s networks can all help to open up the conversation around menopause, ultimately leading to improved moral, better employee relations and retention of valuable female talent.
For more help and support, specifically with training for your HR teams, managers and colleagues contact Floresco Training and Coaching at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the link below to book a call.
Links to sample menopause policies: