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International Women’s Day: the menopause from an employee’s perspective

08/03/2022

Author: Dionne Dury

Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

It’s International Women’s Day today and our employment law and mediation specialist, Dionne Dury, who is happy and not ashamed to share that she is in the perimenopausal age category, considers the often debilitating symptoms that the menopause can cause women in the workplace, the rights female employees have and what organisations can be doing to support women and breaking the taboo around the topic.

Background

The UK has nearly 4 million women employed between the ages of 45 and 55. This makes the menopausal age group the largest proportion of the current workforce.

The average age for the menopause transition is 51 and can include a range of symptoms including hot flushes, sleep disturbances, night sweats and psychological disturbances such as mood swings, anxiety and memory loss. These symptoms can last for around four years.

A CIPD survey carried out in 2019 surveyed 1,409 women experiencing menopause symptoms. The survey found that of those negatively affected at work, the following were the main issues reported:

  • 65% said they were less able to concentrate;
  • 58% said they experienced more stress; and
  • 52% said they felt less patient with clients and colleagues.

The survey also found that nearly a third of the women surveyed said they had taken sick leave because of their symptoms and only a quarter of them felt able to tell their manager the real reason for their absence.

Given that all women will go through menopause, why is it such a taboo subject and why are so many women suffering from their symptoms in silence?

Barriers to women speaking up

The CIPD survey found that privacy was the number one consideration for women choosing not to disclose the real reasons for their absence. A third said that embarrassment prevented them from saying why they needed to take time off, and 32% said that an unsupportive manager was the reason.

It was also reported that women feel more supported by their colleagues (48%) when experiencing the menopause than by their managers.

There is a need for managers to be more approachable on the subject to allow steps to be taken in the right direction in tackling the stigma.

What are your legal rights?

Derogatory or negative comments made about experiencing hot flushes or night sweats could constitute unlawful harassment on the grounds of sex, age and/or disability.

Compensation under the Equality Act is uncapped, meaning employees can claim for loss of earnings, loss of pensions and issue proceedings against individuals in the workplace, who could have personal liability for any compensation awarded.

What needs to change?

Given that perimenopausal and menopausal women make up such a large proportion of the workforce, what should employers be doing to ensure these women can deliver to their full potential?

It is reported that almost a million women in the UK have left jobs because of their menopause symptoms, so this is having a knock-on effect on the number of women holding senior positions at work.

Women of perimenopausal and menopausal age are often at the peak of their careers so what can employers be doing to ensure they are retaining these talented women and supporting them so they can deliver to their full potential?

What your employer can do to help

Developing a robust menopause policy and strong wellbeing support strategy will help retain talented and experienced staff.

Employers also need to educate and train line managers so they are knowledgeable and confident to have sensitive conversations with staff about their symptoms, encourage women to talk freely without judgment, and discuss any adjustments that might be needed.

Reasonable adjustments might include providing a desk fan to help with hot flushes, adjusting work hours (providing women with a later start time if their sleep pattern is disturbed) and making sure women can take regular comfort breaks and allowing them to adapt their uniform to improve comfort levels. All of these are simple changes that can make a big difference to women in the workplace.

How we can help you

If you are experiencing menopausal symptoms and would like further advice on your rights or you are an employer and need support in implementing a menopause policy/advice regarding any of your staff going through the menopause or details of bespoke training for line managers on having sensitive conversations on this topic, you can contact our employment law specialist, Dionne Dury on 01603 214 229 or email her at dionnedury@hatchbrenner.co.uk.

Dionne Dury Employment Law

Dionne Dury - Employment Law Specialist, Norwich

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