Women currently make up almost half of the workforce, with an estimated 3.5 million women over 50 in work, and this number is set to rise as the retirement age increases in the future.
It is also estimated that 25% of women going through menopause have considered leaving their job because of their symptoms and a lack of support from their employer.
According to trade union Unison, the menopause is an occupational health issue that has to be addressed by employers and that they need to understand their responsibilities in making sure the workplace environment does not exacerbate menopausal symptoms.
The menopause needs to be treated in the same way as any other health issue, with provision made for reasonable adjustments to the working environment to enable women going through menopause who may have additional needs to be fully supported.
According to a 2011 paper detailing research carried out by the University of Nottingham and published by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation (BOHRF), the majority of women felt they needed further support and advice to deal with their menopause.
Some of the findings from the research showed:
- Menopause was not considered when workplaces and working practices were being designed.
- Menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, heavy/painful periods, poor concentration and fatigue led to lowered confidence for some women.
- Women were not comfortable disclosing details of their symptoms to their managers, especially younger or male managers.
- Women were unlikely to disclose their reasons for sick absence if related to menopause.
- Some women work hard to overcome their perceived shortcomings resulting from menopause.
- Some women considered cutting their hours to part time or leaving the workforce altogether.
- Over half were unable to negotiate flexible working hours.
- A lack of temperature control or access to fresh air via a window affected nearly half the women asked and some had experienced conflict with colleagues as a result of working in a shared space
Reasonable adjustments can be fairly simple but can also make a huge amount of difference to women going through menopause.
Making desk fans or USB fans easily available, without the need for lengthy application processes can help with hot flushes.
Not having rigid uniform or dress codes can also help for example not enforcing the wearing of nylon tights or a neck scarf.
Flexible working arrangements with delayed start times can help with symptoms of insomnia leading to tiredness or fatigue.
Access to fresh drinking water as well as suitable toilet/changing facilities to enable women to change clothing during the day.
Consider the possibility of home working and carry out risk assessments to ensure that the working environment will not make menopausal symptoms worse. These should include assessments around workplace stress.
Consider making provision for exercise.
Allocate quiet spaces to allow women to manage stress and anxiety.
Regular one to one meetings to discuss symptoms and support and referrals to additional support such as counselling services, coaching, occupational health among others can help with anxiety and confidence. The person best placed to understand their specific needs is the woman herself, so asking what would help is a great place to start.