Menopause is set to impact 1.2 billion women in 2023. As the fastest growing demographic in the workplace, more individuals than ever before will go through menopause or experience menopausal symptoms whilst at work. Despite this, it's still a taboo subject in many workplaces, with so many people feeling embarrassed or ashamed to discuss their symptoms or to ask for additional support when needed.
Despite often being at the peak of their careers, half of those experiencing menopause symptoms have decreased job satisfaction and a staggering 42% consider leaving work altogether.
The aim of a menopause policy is to ensure that everyone feels supported and valued within the workplace
A comprehensive menopause policy can help to break down these barriers and create a more supportive working environment for employees who are struggling with menopause or perimenopause. Your menopause policy should provide guidance on menopause for HR teams and managers. It should also outline potential adjustments that can be made to support people with menopause-related symptoms, such as hot flushes, insomnia, and mental health or cognitive symptoms.
Think about menopause as a workplace issue, not an individual issue; a menopause policy should create a supportive and inclusive workplace culture that recognises the impact menopause can have on a person's life.
Your menopause policy should also highlight your legal obligations as an employer. For example, employers must provide reasonable adjustments to any employees with a health condition, including menopause. Being completely clear and on top of your legal obligations as an employer will mean that your employees won't experience unlawful discrimination in the workplace. It'll help you create a more equitable and supportive work environment for all of your employees and a transparent and open culture.
A 'good' workplace menopause policy should consider the needs of everyone impacted by menopause and cover all the possible symptoms people may experience
When writing your menopause policy, it's important to think about all of the issues that might impact employees with symptoms of menopause, including both the physical and psychological symptoms.
Your policy should not only consider menopausal women, but it should also take into consideration the needs of trans people and non-binary people who may also experience menopause. Your policy should be as inclusive as possible in both the language you use when writing it, as well as what your people are entitled to.
You should also keep in mind menopause can affect people at different stages of life. 1 in 100 women experience premature ovarian insufficiency (also known as early menopause). Your policy should consider the experiences of all people who may have menopause-related symptoms, not just women in a certain age demographic.
Your policy should outline the potential adjustments that can be made to support people who are going through menopause, touching on a range of issues.
This may seem a little obvious, but making sure people have access to cold drinking water, toilet facilities, and sanitary products is important.
Your policy should also offer guidance on how to deal with menopause-related absence too, which can often be a difficult or awkward subject to talk about, but definitely needs to be addressed. Employers should consider making adjustments to their performance management system to account for any impact of menopause on productivity. A decrease in productivity and difficulty concentrating is a very common impact of menopause and something we see a lot through our work at Fertifa.
A comprehensive menopause policy should be a tool that helps to support anyone experiencing menopause symptoms in the workplace, and it should also be something that is inclusive of all employees. By recognising menopause as a health condition and developing policies to manage its impact at work, employers can create a more supportive and inclusive work environment, leading to happier, healthier, and more productive employees.
When writing your menopause policy, you should define any terms that might be unfamiliar or open to interpretation
Definitions are an important aspect of any written document, including policies, procedures, and guidelines. They provide complete clarity and make sure that anyone reading the document is on the same page. Clear wording plays an important role in ensuring your policy is effective and understood by everyone involved.
Clear definitions and wording also help to prevent misunderstandings and potential conflicts. When everyone agrees on the meaning of a word or phrase, it's easier to avoid confusion or misinterpretation down the line. When drafting your menopause policy, it's important to make sure you use clear and concise language and avoid overly broad or vague definitions that could lead to confusion. This is especially important when it comes to sensitive issues that aren't openly spoken about, like menopause.
For example, when writing a menopause policy, it's a good idea to clearly define terms such as "menopausal symptoms," "hot flushes," and "premature menopause."
Educate yourself and your team about the common symptoms of menopause
Menopause is defined as a person's last ever period. An individual is considered to have reached menopause 12 months after their last period. Menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as oestrogen levels decline. Perimenopause is the time before a person's last period when their hormone levels begin to fluctuate, oestrogen levels start to decrease, and they start to experience symptoms typically associated with menopause. Perimenopause can last for several years, and someone can start experiencing menopause and perimenopause symptoms up to 10 years before their last period!
Usually, the first sign that someone is becoming perimenopausal is a change in their normal menstrual cycles. This change represents any sudden shift in a person's monthly cycle; namely irregular periods (they become more or less frequent) and unusually light or heavy periods.
As well as changes to an individual's monthly periods, there are some common and completely normal perimenopause symptoms that can affect daily life. Remember, there isn't one unifying symptom - the types and severity of menopause symptoms will vary a lot from person to person.
Symptoms can include:
- Changes in skin condition, oiliness or the development of acne
- Hair loss or thinning
- Headaches and migraines
- Joint stiffness, aches, and pains
- Vaginal dryness and atrophic vaginitis (thinning and inflammation of the vaginal wall)
- Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) and urinary incontinence
- Heart palpitations
- Hot flashes or hot flushes (a sudden feeling of heat)
- Night sweats
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Memory loss
- Weight gain
- Dry skin and dry mouth
- Skin irritation
- Joint pain
- Bone loss or loss of bone density
- Sleep disturbances or sleep issues
- High blood pressure
- Breast tenderness
- Racing heart
- Irregular periods and heavy bleeding
Emotional symptoms are also common. Increased anxiety and sometimes panic attacks, low mood, irritability, reduced sex drive (libido), mood swings, or feeling a loss of self are all associated with menopause.
Each person's experience of menopause will be unique to them. Some will experience severe symptoms, whereas others won't even notice they're going through it. Some people will have some of the more mild symptoms. Either way, you can see how any of the symptoms listed above (even in a mild form!) can have a big impact on someone's working life.
A menopause policy is necessary for workplace equality, to keep your best performing staff, create an inclusive culture, and to make sure you're fulfilling your legal obligations as an employer
Menopause is an equality issue
Menopause affects nearly half of the population, yet there are so many stigmas around it in the workplace. This lack of understanding can lead to negative stereotypes and discrimination against people who are experiencing menopause and perimenopause. By implementing a menopause policy, employers will show their people that they really care. It normalises something that's an inevitable part of life and means that more people will have access to the right support, instead of suffering in silence,
Menopause can have a negative impact on work performance
The symptoms of menopause can have a big impact on work performance. People who are experiencing hot flushes, night sweats, and sleep disturbances may find it difficult to concentrate and stay focused on their work. Naturally, this can lead to mistakes, missed deadlines, and decreased productivity. Psychological symptoms like brain fog, anxiety and memory loss can also have an impact on people's performance and output at work. By providing support and reasonable adjustments for women going through menopause, employers can help minimise the impact of these symptoms on work performance.
Menopause can be a sensitive topic
Talking about menopause can be difficult, especially in a workplace setting. It's completely normal for people to feel embarrassed talking about it because menopause is something that's only now becoming normalised. Only now are we seeing conversations open up about it in the workplace. By implementing a menopause policy, employers will be creating a safe, inclusive and supportive environment where people can bring their best selves to work.
A menopause policy is a legal obligation
Employers have a legal duty to provide a safe and supportive working environment for all employees. This includes supporting people going through menopause or perimenopause. Not doing this can lead to a legal risk of discrimination, so it's really important to do.
Some final things to think about when writing your menopause policy
1. Acknowledge and recognise the stress that can come with menopause challenges and treatment
Managing menopause symptoms and work can be overwhelming and very isolating at times, with lots of people reporting feeling a loss of confidence at work when badly affected by menopause symptoms. Make sure your workplace policy is written in a way that is empathetic to the stresses and challenges members of your team may be facing. This is important for creating a company culture where people feel safe to disclose their struggles and are able to make use of the support you are providing.
2. Clearly outline what you mean by flexible working and if employees are entitled to dedicated menopause leave
When writing your menopause policy, it's important not to be vague in what type of leave or alternative working arrangements people are entitled to so it's as easy as possible to understand. Outline a clear and easy process that defines exactly how an employee should request to take time off if they are unable to work due to menopause symptoms, whether this falls under your normal sickness absence policy or if you have a separate menopause leave allowance. You should also outline how to request a flexible working arrangement if this is not already a standard for your workplace. Keep in mind that if someone is needing to take additional time off due to symptoms, they're probably already feeling worried or stressed about their performance at work. Make things as easy as possible for them by writing your menopause policy in a straightforward way.
3. Make sure you've noted that the use of menopause leave or support will be fully confidential
Make that it is clearly stated in your policy, and all line managers understand, that the use of any menopause support your company offers is kept fully confidential unless the person affected by menopause or perimenopause wants to let their teammates know. It's an incredibly personal and sensitive issue; sometimes people want their team to know, whereas other times people want to keep their medical situation private.
4. Consider other reasonable adjustments you can make to help people manage menopause symptoms effectively
These adjustments can range from simple changes to the working environment to more substantial alterations to workloads and schedules. Hot flushes are a common symptom of menopause, and they can make it difficult for someone going through to work in a hot or stuffy environment. Employers can adjust the temperature in the workplace, provide fans, and ensure there is access to drinking water to help women affected by menopause stay comfortable. For some women, menopause can significantly affect their energy levels and ability to concentrate. Offering flexible working arrangements, such as reduced hours or the option to work from home, can help them manage their workload and avoid burnout. Provide guidance for employees by outlining the type of support that is available for those who are impacted by menopause challenges.
5. Make sure your policy is inclusive
When writing your policy remember that trans and non-binary people can also go through menopause and be affected by perimenopause and menopausal symptoms. Make sure your policy uses inclusive language and clearly states it is applicable to anyone impacted by menopausal symptoms, not just women.
6. Once you've shared your policy with the wider company, invite people to provide feedback
It's important to be open when making changes to your menopause policy and acting on feedback, so it's as helpful as it possibly can be. Feedback can be given by organising a small focus group, an anonymous questionnaire, or simply asking for feedback or input via email. Remember, this should be considered a working document which is subject to regular review. As you learn how to be an inclusive and better employer, your reproductive health policies should develop too.