Friday October 18 is World Menopause Day, and employers can play their part by revisiting how effectively they are supporting the health and wellbeing needs of older women in the workplace.
Employee health and wellbeing – supporting women’s health in a multi-generational working world
Friday October 18 is World Menopause Day, the global health and wellbeing awareness-raising day run by the International Menopause Society and the World Health Organization to highlight female health issues and menopausal-specific health risks.
The day is supported in the UK by the British Menopause Society which has been pushing hard in recent years to hammer home the message that, rather than something to be dismissed as just “part of ageing”, the effects of the menopause need to be taken seriously by employers.
In particular, the impact the menopause can have on a woman’s ability to be and stay in work – and how female employees can be better supported as a result – needs to be on the agenda for employers.
The gradual ageing of our workforce is also bringing the impact of age-specific health conditions (whether for men or women) sharply into focus.
In the UK, for example, the average age for the onset of the menopause is 51 years old, although it can be anywhere between 45 and 55. This means a woman may spend a third of her life in a post-menopausal state, a good portion of that of working age.
Back in May by the HR body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development concluded that three out of five working women between the ages of 45 and 55 believed their menopause symptoms were having a negative impact on them at work.
Almost two-thirds (65%) said it affected their ability to concentrate, more than half (58%) said they experienced more stress and 52% said it made them less patient with clients and colleagues.
There is also growing awareness of the potentially valuable support role employers can have.
MPs in August called for employers to do more to protect and support women going through the menopause, including making better and more frequent use of workplace menopause policies.
And in September, the Labour Party, at its conference, outlined plans to require all large employers to introduce a menopause workplace policy.
Tools and resources
Symptoms of the menopause can include hot flushes, sleep issues, depression, irritability, anxiety, sexual and bladder problems, joint pain, poor concentration and tiredness and reduced memory. This, in turn, can lead menopausal women to feel less able to perform at the level they wish, less engaged and less committed.
What, then, can employers and managers, supported by occupational health, do to help and support women going through the menopause?
In terms of interventions, there are, first, extensive resources and tools out there that can offer guidance. For example, Business in the Community has a downloadable toolkit Women, Menopause and the workplace and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine has Guidance on menopause and the workplace. The TUC also offers a menopause and the workplace “toolkit”.
At a practical level, it is important employers undertake risk assessments, for example whether the working environment is overly hot or the ventilation inadequate, highlights Optima Health Chief Medical Officer Rikard Moen.
“It can be a good idea to explore offering flexible hours or the possibility of setting up peer support groups for menopausal or post-menopausal employees. Another area to address is access to the toilet facilities,” he advises.
“More widely, it is important to be creating an environment where women can feel menopause disclosure is not negative. This can include effectively signposting to support, advice and information, including advice and support around any mental health or anxiety issues that may result, for example offering access to an Employee Assistance Programme.
“Finally, it is valuable to work with your occupational health provider to ensure that employees going through the menopause fully understand the medical options and support open to them, including hormone replacement therapy. This needs to be include ensuring they are supported, where appropriate, to take the time out to go and see their GP about the fact they are going through the menopause,” adds Rikard.