The right support and a menopause policy can help reduce the number of working days lost due to menopause symptoms.
MPs are calling on employers to do more to reduce sickness absence linked to menopause, after an enquiry found that “the majority of employers do not consider menopause a proper health condition and do not have policies in place to support staff going through it”.
One in two (59%) women said menopause symptoms, ranging from fatigue to memory issues, negatively affect them at work, causing one in ten to quit their job as a result.
That is a tremendous shame because, with the right treatment and coping strategies, women can be helped to stay well and in work. So, for this World Menopause Month, our clinical experts share their top five tips for reducing sickness absence linked to menopause.
1. Educate women about menopause from the age of 35
Although the menopause is clearly defined as having occurred 12 months after a woman has her last period, symptoms can start 15 years before this. Women in the UK reach menopause aged 51, on average. This means women in their late 30s to mid-40s can start to struggle with fatigue, memory loss and anxiety, without understanding what’s happening to them.
Many women don’t realise they’ve entered the perimenopause, the time when their body starts to transition to menopause, and mistakenly assume they just can’t cope with the
pressures they’re under. This can lead to them giving up work or getting referred into occupational health for work-related stress. Yet, when what they’re really experiencing is a hormonal imbalance that can easily be treated or managed with the right support.
Critical to supporting more women is educating them about the perimenopause from the age of 35, so they know what to expect and where to go for help and advice. Otherwise, unless they’re significantly older and experiencing hot flushes and symptoms more typically linked to menopause, they won’t realise they’re entering menopause and might struggle to cope.
2. Train managers to signpost to support
It can be more than a little daunting for a manager to open a conversation about menopause, so make sure they’re trained to do this. Provide a webinar or workshop on the symptoms of menopause, which go far beyond hot flushes, and how this can impact on people at work.
Younger and male managers might have no concept of what it feels like to go through the menopause and to feel like you suddenly can’t do basic things, such as like remembering words or giving presentations, that you used to excel at. By educating them what the symptoms of the menopause and perimenopause are and how this can impact on the ability of someone to at work, you can help them to become more aware, empathetic and understanding.
They can then use this empathy to gently take women who might be exhibiting symptoms of menopause aside to say, “I’ve noticed you seem to be struggling with certain things lately.” They can then let them know about wellbeing resources the company has in place to help, including perimenopause information and self-assessments in case it’s linked to that.
3. Create a menopause friendly culture
The more psychologically safe your workplace, the more able people are to talk about issues affecting them without fear of discrimination or ridicule. This applies to menopause as much as anything else, so make sure people feel safe acknowledging when they’re going through menopause and talking about what this feels like.
This sort of openness will make the topic less taboo and educate other women to help them recognise when they start experiencing something similar. It will also reassure them that it’s okay to be menopausal without this having negative consequences at workplace.
Consider creating a menopause support group or appointing menopause champions as role models to hold events and share information. These individuals can also act as a first point of conversation for women who want to explore the subject, as well as acting as case studies to demonstrate how the business is supporting them.
4. Make reasonable adjustments
For many women, treatments such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can make a huge difference to their symptoms. For others, who might want to have a ‘natural menopause’ or can’t have HRT due to health issues, you might need to consider making reasonable adjustments.
If someone is struggling with fatigue or sleep issues, allowing them to work more flexibly for a time can be very beneficial. If someone is struggling with their memory, encouraging them to write things down or offering technology that issues automatic reminders can help. If they’re struggling with hot flushes, a desk fan and option to wear layers of clothing can help.
Each person’s needs will be unique, so it’s important for managers to talk to the employee about what might be helpful to them. If they’re not sure, consider asking an occupational health provider to conduct a short assessment to provide some recommendations. These will be designed to keep the person performing and in work so save much more than replacing them if they decide to quit or go long-term sick.
5. Write a menopause policy
Older women are often at the peak of their careers, with a wealth of knowledge and skills that can be passed onto others, so it’s important to retain and look after them. Introducing a menopause policy shows you value them and want to look after them.
Talk to employees and your occupational health provider about what would specifically help women approaching and going through menopause at your organisation. Then write and promote your policy in an accessible way, so women know that they won’t be discriminated against. Explain the role of their manager in supporting them and what menopause resources and education you offer.
It can also be useful to think about how your menopause policy will align with other diversity, inclusion and wellbeing policies. Menopause can significantly reduce bone density, for example, so think about incorporating bone-strengthening exercises, such as hiking, walking up stairs and jogging, into your wider wellbeing initiatives. It can also increase anxiety so make sure access to mental health support, such as your EAP, is also included in the policy.