A holistic approach to menopause in the workplace

25 February 2022

Like mental health, the menopause has historically been viewed as a taboo subject in the workplace. However, as we have discovered with mental health, talking, understanding and taking positive action can be the key to changing people’s views and experiences for the better.

Menopause, once euphemistically referred to as ‘the change of life’, is a natural part of the ageing process. It can cause a chain of physical and psychological effects, including hot flushes and sweats, anxiety, fatigue, depression, headaches and reduced concentration – to name but a few. Many women start experiencing these symptoms during perimenopause, when their oestrogen levels start to fall. Perimenopause can last for years before the start of menopause itself.

According to the NHS, the average age for women in the UK to start menopause is 51, and it usually lasts for around four years. Early or late-onset menopause is not uncommon, and some women have been known to go through menopause for up to 12 years.

Menopause and work

Research by the CIPD found that 59 per cent of working women aged between 45 and 55 reported that their menopause symptoms negatively affected them at work. With this in mind, it is essential that employers are better informed about the symptoms, the psychological impact, and the ways in which support can be provided.

Employers should also be aware of the wider impact in terms of pressure on other members of the team, sickness absence and the risk of losing good talent.

Is menopause a disability?

Menopause is not a disability in itself. However, depending on the impact and longevity of the symptoms, it may meet the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Menopausal symptoms will amount to a disability where they have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the individual's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. It would be wise to take medical advice on this rather than making potentially risky assumptions.

An employer may be legally obliged by the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to an employee’s role or working conditions if they have a disability that places them at a disadvantage when performing their role. Employers must ensure compliance with their obligations in this regard.

With an increase in menopause-related discrimination claims, we are watching employment tribunal decisions carefully.

Ways employers can provide support

  1. Provide menopause training and awareness, helping managers and other employees to respond to what can be a difficult topic.
  2. Your general culture and approach to employee wellbeing should ensure that employees know that your position extends to menopause support. You should have a menopause policy and be aware of appropriate sources of support and guidance that you can direct employees to.
  3. Appoint someone in the organisation as the person to speak with in the first instance for initial support and advice, and to facilitate further discussions with managers and HR as appropriate. Be mindful that menopause is a sex and age-specific condition when making this appointment.
  4. If you have an employee assistance programme, check what menopause support is available. If you don’t, consider the benefits of adopting one for general employee wellbeing.
  5. Discuss whether reasonable adjustments may be appropriate on a temporary or permanent basis.
  6. Reiterate the importance of fair treatment for all employees, specifically relating to harassment and discrimination.
  7. Manage performance in a way that recognises the symptoms of menopause, yet is not in any way discriminatory.

Our People Advisory Services team can support employers with:

  • drafting a menopause policy, including guiding your strategy and approach;
  • delivering training for your staff and/or management, including how to navigate the people issues and legal risks;
  • undertaking an independent review of your organisation’s workplace culture; and
  • providing an independent third-party advisory service should your organisation require an investigation into allegations of potentially discriminatory or bullying behaviour towards menopausal employees.

If you would like more information or have any queries, please contact Kerri Constable.