Today's blog was written by the wonderful Pat Duckworth, award winning author of ‘Hot Women, Cool Solutions; How to control menopause symptoms using mind/body techniques’ . Menopause affects every woman at some point in their life and just like other wellbeing related issues has to be adequately addressed in the workplace in order to minimise its impact.
Menopause is a workplace issue
Menopause is rarely discussed as a ‘health and safety’ or an ‘occupational health’ issue but a report by The University of Nottingham for The British Occupational Health Research Foundation (2010)* found that 42 per cent of the women surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that their performance had been negatively impacted by their menopausal symptoms.
Women make up half the workforce and there are an estimated three and a half million women over the age of 50 currently in work. The average age of menopause in the UK is 52 and symptoms may be experienced between the ages of 45 and 65. Add to that women who experience menopause symptoms due to medical treatment such as hysterectomy and hormone treatment for cancer.
Research by the TUC* in 2003 found that the working environment was responsible for making symptoms worse. Issues such as high workplace temperatures, poor ventilation, poor toilet facilities and lack of access to cold drinking water were identified in the survey. Working hours were also cited as a problem for women working through menopause.
Menopause is not an illness. It is a natural stage of life during which the reproductive hormones are declining until menstrual periods stop. Some women experience relatively symptom free transitions to post-menopause but for others their symptoms can impact on their performance at work.
The symptoms which caused women the most problems at work were:
· Hot flushes
· Anxiety attacks
· Poor concentration
· Poor memory
· Feeling low/depressed
· Lowered confidence
What can Managers do to support women colleagues?
Many women regard their menopausal symptoms a private matter. They are concerned that discussing it with work colleagues could lead to negative perceptions of their competence and abilities. However, they appreciate support from colleagues where appropriate.
The issue of menopause could become a managerial issue if either:
- A woman employee approaches you and mentions that she is experiencing menopausal symptoms that are affecting her performance at work or
- You become aware of changes in a woman colleague’s performance or attendance which may be due to menopausal symptoms
Start the meeting by reassuring the person that there is nothing ‘wrong’ and then tell them what you have observed for example facts about their behaviour, performance or attendance. Do not mention the word ‘menopause’ unless the person tells you that that is what the issue is. Follow up by asking them if there is anything that you can help them with or if there is anything that they want to discuss.
If the person does not want to discuss anything, let them know that they can come and talk to you at any time. Make a note that you have made the offer of a discussion.
If the person does want to talk to you about what they are experiencing, ask them what help or support they need at work or if they need any adjustments to their working environment. If they mention something that you are not sure about, be prepared to say that you will need to seek further advice. At the end of the meeting summarise the actions you have both agreed to take and the timescale for implementation.
Following the meeting make sure that you carry out the actions that you have agreed to within the timescale agreed.
What sort of workplace adjustments might be appropriate?
The nature of the workplace adjustments that might be appropriate depends on the nature of the symptoms that the woman is experiencing and the type of work they are doing. Here are some examples:
· Alterations to uniform clothes
· Changes to duties if work involves a lot of standing
· Risk assessment of the workstation changes
· Ensuring that, if requested, the woman is close to ventilation, sources of drinking water or toilets and has provision of discreet storage for personal items
· Flexible working hours
· Flexible sickness absence processes that cater for menopause-related absence
Women who perceive that they are supported through the menopause at work have a better experience of this stage of their life and are likely to be more productive and take fewer days of sick leave.
You can find more information about menopause at:
*Women’s Experience of Working through Menopause 2010 http://www.bohrf.org.uk/downloads/Womens_Experience_of_Working_through_the_Menopause-Dec_2010.pdf
*‘Supporting working women through the menopause’ TUC, 2013
By Pat Duckworth MBA, NLP Master Prac, Dip Cog Hyp
Pat Duckworth is a menopause expert, author and inspirational public speaker. She career started in the voluntary and public sector where she rose to be a Senior Civil Servant. Pat discovered her entrepreneurial mojo in her mid-50s and since then has written three books including the award-winning, ‘Hot Women, Cool Solutions’. She is passionate about inspiring other women to get the best from their lives, no matter what their age