Menopause Matters: Building a Supportive Workplace Culture

April 3, 2024

UK train operator, Avanti West Coast, has recently sparked debate for its mishandling of supporting employees experiencing menopause. They introduced a ‘gift bag’ containing a fan (intended for hot sweats), a jelly baby (intended for relief when “you feel like biting someone’s head off”), a paper clip (to keep it all together) and a pencil (for writing things down so they’re not forgotten). These items, along with others like chocolate and teabags, were handed out to staff at drop-ins for menopause support conversations.

Rail unions denounced the gift bag as demeaning, dismissive, and an insulting gimmick. The menopause, they argued, is not a joke but a debilitating condition for some women, and the company would be better off developing supportive workplace policies and procedures.

This issue has gained further attention in light of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) recently releasing new guidance to help employers understand how to support workers experiencing menopausal symptoms. Therefore, employers need to take this issue seriously.

Supporting employees going through menopause is important not only to comply with employment law, but also to create a supportive and inclusive workplace environment. In this article, we look at the guidance and how employers can proactively ensure their employees feel valued and supported during this stage of their lives. In short, it requires you to have a solid menopause action plan in place, including training, information sharing, flexible work, absence policies, and dress codes that support menopausal women.

What does the guidance say?

The EHRC's guidance draws from research carried out by the CIPD and Fawcett Society, revealing concerning statistics such as 1 in 10 women leaving their jobs due to menopausal symptoms and 67% reporting negative impacts at work due to these symptoms. This underscores the importance of the EHRC's guidance, which not only explains menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms but also outlines employers' legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

Accompanying the guidance are three short videos covering the following topics: 1) how a worker experiencing menopause symptoms may be protected under the Equality Act 2010, 2) examples of adjustments that employers could make to support workers experiencing menopause and perimenopausal symptoms, and 3) guidance on opening conversations up about menopause in the workplace.

Research by the CIPD underscores the challenges menopausal symptoms pose, affecting concentration, stress levels, relationships, and physical abilities at work, with 46% of respondents saying they felt less physically able to perform some of their responsibilities at work as a result of their symptoms (which often led to absences). These symptoms can even be considered a disability under certain circumstances, requiring employers to provide reasonable adjustments and avoid discrimination.

The menopause can have a hugely detrimental impact on the physical and mental well-being of those going through it. Employers should be aware that if those symptoms are long-term and have a substantial impact on an employee’s ability to carry out their day-to-day activities, they could be considered a disability, meaning employees would be protected from discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. An employer has a legal obligation to avoid discrimination against employees and provide reasonable adjustments to support the disability in question. Not only is this a legal obligation, but it’s also important in fulfilling health and safety obligations and improving the well-being of your team.

The guidance highlights the risks associated with failing to make adjustments for employees experiencing menopausal symptoms and outlines the benefits of taking proactive steps to support them. Proactive steps include having open conversations about menopause- this extends to all workers, not just affected employees, with their manager and/orHR teams. This will enable colleagues to feel better prepared to support one another and understand experiences and symptoms in an empathetic manner.  

What can I do to support employees experiencing menopause?

The menopause is a very personal experience, which means your approach to supporting employees going through it needs to be flexible and personalised.There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Whilst Avanti defended its position as part of a wider menopause initiative, employers should focus their efforts on developing workplace procedures and practices that genuinely support the well-being of those experiencing menopausal symptoms and champion a better working life for them.

Creating a culture that encourages open communication and empathy can make a significant difference in helping employees feel valued and supported during this stage of their lives. Education and awareness should play a big part in helping employees (who have/will not experience menopause themselves) to understand the experiences their colleagues may face. This should address the impact the symptoms may have on working life and how they can support one another. This will also demonstrate your commitment to addressing better well-being for your employees.

Flexible working can take many forms. Adjusting start and finish times, allocated breaks, place of work, etc., can help reduce the impact of symptoms. If you provide a workplace, you should consider adjustments to workwear, ventilation, breaks, rest areas, etc., to further alleviate the symptoms experienced.  

The hormonal and biochemical changes linked to menopause can harm the mental health of those going through it. You could consider introducing a form of employee assistance programme to offer professional support to help employees navigate the mental and physical changes they are experiencing.

It’s not only about developing new policies and practices to support employees experiencing menopause, but also ensuring your existing practices don’t result in indirect age, sex, or disability discrimination.

How can we help?

At Plume, we are a team of women who understand the challenges and impact on working life caused by the changes that our bodies undergo at all stages of life. Whether you need help educating your team, managing workplace adjustments and flexible working requests, or introducing policy-specific guidance, we’re here to help make the world of work, work for you and your team!

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