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Managing Menopause at Work

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BY Anita Mulholland
Employment Law & HR

Figures from the Office of National Statistics published in January 2018 show that the number of workers over the age of 50 has hit an all-time high of 10 million people. To put that into some perspective, this figure represents the entire population of Sweden. It should therefore come as no surprise that some organisations are taking steps to help accommodate an increasingly age-diverse workforce.

The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51. A symptom of the menopause may well be protected under the Equality Act 2010 if it meets the definition of a disability. It would need to have a substantial and long term effect on the individual’s ability to do their normal daily activities. Common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, anxiety and problems with memory.

Marks and Spencer’s have had in place ‘menopausal policies’ since 2013, which present a key tool in removing challenges for older women in the workplace. Developing a ‘Manage your menopause’ video in 2013, the organisation now offers a robust system of training and policies to support managers in addressing what many employers view as a taboo topic.  In an area where HR guidance may be limited, employers would be wise to take proactive steps to address what is ultimately a ‘physical or mental wellbeing’ question. Marks and Spencer’s also offer services such as referrals to specialist teams in Occupational Health.

A report previously published the National Union of Teachers revealed that 80% of respondents said they would not disclose personal issues concerning the menopause, in part for fear of opening themselves up to a potential redundancy situation. This illustrates that, even in female-dominated professions there may be a failure to support women during what can be a very difficult time for them.

Employers may want to consider taking steps that encourage women to have more frank discussions about what they are experiencing. Training for all members of staff to raise awareness of the issue should help to ensure that this topic is no longer considered as out of bounds or inappropriate. It is also likely that some employees feel embarrassed discussing the issue, especially with a male colleague. Employers could put in place measures so that any gender-specific sickness can be reported to a manager of the same gender in order to make them feel more comfortable.

Knowledge of symptoms such as hot flushes, tiredness and lack of energy will also equip managers with the knowhow to allow for considerations towards working conditions. In such circumstances a proactive step may be allowing for variation to uniform, extended breaks or changes in workplace conditions.

If you have any questions about how you can make changes to accommodate an increasingly ageing workforce, speak to your dedicated HR advisor today.

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