How to support menopausal employees: HR guidance for a menopause-friendly workplace

As we celebrate World Menopause Day, it is essential to recognise the unique challenges women face during this life transition, especially in the workplace.

Menopause word on wooden block
Menopause is a natural stage in a woman's life, but the physical and emotional symptoms it brings can significantly impact their professional life. It's time for HR professionals and businesses to take proactive steps to create menopause-friendly workspaces that support employees during this phase. This article serves as a guide for those looking to champion a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

The menopause dilemma: a silent struggle

Menopause is an inevitable phase in a woman's life and, though some women can experience the change at a much younger age, it typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. However, its effects are far from uniform. For some women, the transition is smooth, while others experience a range of physical and emotional symptoms, including hot flashes, sleep disturbances, mood swings, and cognitive changes.This variability can make it challenging for HR professionals to address menopause in the workplace, as it's often seen as a personal issue, hidden from the professional realm. It’s important that menopause should not be thought of as a personal issue that impacts a small number of certain employees, but a workplace issue that employers can take active steps towards understanding.

The business case for menopause-friendly workspaces

Creating a menopause-friendly workplace is not only a matter of compassion but also makes strong business sense. According to the World Health Organisation, the average age of menopause is 51, and with women comprising a substantial part of the workforce, it's crucial for businesses to understand the implications of this natural transition.

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Retention and recruitment

Menopause can be a career crossroads for women. Many women going through menopause are at the peak of their careers, having acquired invaluable experience, skills, and knowledge over the years – these women are essential assets to their organisations.However, the all-encompassing symptoms of menopause can be challenging, potentially affecting their work performance and overall job satisfaction. Creating a supportive environment can prevent valuable talent from leaving, retaining these skilled professionals who have contributed significantly to the company's success.

Productivity and efficiency

Menopausal symptoms can affect concentration and sleep quality, leading to reduced productivity. By creating a menopause-friendly workspace, companies can ensure their employees continue to perform optimally.Just as companies offer maternity and childcare benefits to attract candidates, showcasing a menopause-friendly work environment can be a powerful recruitment tool. By openly addressing the challenges of menopause in the workplace, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to gender diversity and inclusion – as well as destigmatising conversation around the menopause.

Legal Obligations

Under the Equality Act 2010, menopause is largely covered under the protected characteristics of age, sex, and disability discrimination. This means employers must make reasonable adjustments to support menopausal employees.In the UK, menopause-related employment tribunal cases have been on the rise in recent years, emphasising the importance of taking these obligations seriously. To avoid these legal and reputational risks, employers should proactively embrace their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 and take concrete steps to support menopausal employees.

Creating a menopause-friendly work environment: A step-by-step guide

Awareness and trainingTo create a supportive environment, employers and HR professionals need to educate themselves about menopause. Understanding the physical and emotional challenges is crucial, just as they would for any other health condition.Organise training sessions and workshops to educate HR professionals and employees about the changes women may experience during this phase. Include information about the different stages of menopause, its impact on women's lives, and ways in which the workplace can be supportive. This type of training can help eliminate the stigma surrounding menopause and feed into the next point, encouraging open conversation.Open communicationEncourage open, confidential conversations about menopause between employees and their line managers or HR.Start by creating a work culture where open discussions about menopause are encouraged and normalised, where women feel comfortable discussing their needs and seeking support. Remove the stigma and misconceptions surrounding this natural life phase. Incorporate menopause into general health and wellbeing conversations to help dispel myths and facilitate understanding.You could also develop guidelines for how these conversations should be initiated and handled, emphasising empathy and confidentiality.Private spacesEstablish clear and confidential channels through which employees can discuss their menopausal concerns. This might include a dedicated email address, a confidential hotline, or a scheduled one-on-one meeting with an HR representative. Ensure that employees understand that their privacy will be respected, and their information will be kept confidential.Creating physical, designated quiet areas or zones for private conversations is also important. These spaces are beneficial not only for discussing menopause-related concerns but also for maintaining overall privacy and confidentiality. This will help to contribute to a more comfortable and understanding workplace.Flexible working arrangementsOffer flexible working options, such as adjusted hours, remote work, or job-sharing, to accommodate employees who may experience irregular sleep patterns or require extra breaks during the workday.Establish clear policies outlining how employees can request and utilise these flexible arrangements, ensuring fairness and consistency.Just as we make adjustments for pregnant employees, ensure there are policies and procedures in place for requesting and implementing these flexible working arrangements, ensuring fairness and consistency. Providing options to work from home or have flexible hours can significantly improve someone’s ability to manage their symptoms and maintain their productivity.Mental health supportMenopause is not just a physical transition; it's a significant emotional and psychological journey as well.Offer access to mental health support services, like Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), to help women navigate anxiety and stress associated with menopause. Promote these services throughout the organisation and make it clear that they are available not just for emergencies but also for ongoing support.By offering mental health support services like EAPs and encouraging the use of them throughout the organisation, businesses create a safety net for women experiencing menopause. As well as helping employees navigate symptoms, it also communicates a strong commitment to the wellbeing and mental health of all employees. It fosters a more compassionate, empathetic, and supportive workplace that benefits everyone – ultimately enhancing job satisfaction and overall productivity.Policy and procedure reviewEvaluate existing HR policies to ensure they're inclusive of menopausal considerations. This may involve updating sickness policies to acknowledge menopause as a valid reason for leave and providing reasonable adjustments where necessary. Ensure that these policies are communicated effectively and consistently enforced.Feedback mechanismsEstablish a feedback mechanism for employees to voice concerns or provide suggestions for further improvements related to the menopause-friendly initiatives. Create anonymous feedback channels to encourage candid input, and periodically review the feedback to make necessary adjustments to your policies and support systems.Supportive leadershipLeadership sets the tone for how the entire organisation perceives this transition. A key aspect of supportive leadership is the development of empathy and effective communication.Managers should be trained to listen actively, show understanding, and communicate in a non-judgmental manner. Employers need to be sensitive about the unique needs of women experiencing menopause. These skills enable them to engage in meaningful, constructive dialogues with employees. Encourage leaders to lead by example, demonstrating support in their interactions with employees.An obligation for employersCreating a menopause-friendly workspace isn't just a moral obligation; it's a strategic move that benefits both employees and businesses. As HR professionals, it's our responsibility to lead the charge in making the workplace a more inclusive and supportive environment for women going through this natural phase in life.On this World Menopause Day, we should commit to fostering a culture of empathy, understanding, and support for menopausal employees. In doing so, we not only enhance our organisations but also empower women to embrace this life transition with confidence. A menopause-friendly workspace ensures a more inclusive and successful future for both your employees and your business.Dr Susan Doering workshop 1123 intext

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About Kelly Tucker

With an impressive track record spanning two decades, Kelly Tucker is a seasoned HR professional with invaluable expertise across a wide spectrum of HR domains. Now the Managing Director of her own consultancy, HR Star, her journey commenced as a HR Administrator, where she rapidly ascended through the ranks to assume the role of a strategic HR business partner.Through collaboration with numerous clients, she provided critical support and guidance as a strategic advisor, imparting her expertise to an entrepreneurial business leadership team, thereby offering them profound insights and direction. Kelly is adept at harnessing her extensive knowledge of HR strategies and best practices to aid clients in navigating intricate HR challenges, ultimately optimising their workforce to propel business success.

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