Currently, most organisations will have a significant number of women in their workplace who are, or will soon, go through the menopause. Whilst it’s something that is often joked about by women and men alike, it can be incredibly debilitating if you suffer extreme symptoms – of which there are 34! From hot flushes, to itchy skin and phycological problems such as depression, it really is so important to create a workplace that supports and encourages those who are going through the menopause.
Why is it important?
You only need to look at the range of symptoms, both physical and mental to begin to understand what women experience when they are going through this phase in the female lifecycle. If you want to retain key talent and experience, it makes sense to support this population of people to make sure they are comfortable and motivated at work. It is also your legal duty to ensure working conditions don’t exacerbate someone’s symptoms. By making sure you understand everything about the menopause and how you can help your people, you will retain valuable talent and help to remove barriers to progression for women.
How to create it?
Make sure you are knowledgeable and understand the symptoms to ensure you can be empathetic towards people who may be experiencing them. Make it easy for someone to be open with you by having regular catch-ups and ask open questions such as “How are you doing at the moment?”.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate…
In order to help, you need to let your audience know that you’re listening, so think about an internal communication campaign demonstrating that you care, as well as linking this to an education programme for those who manage people (of all ages and gender) so that they understand what to look for and how to help.
By making simple changes, it could really make a huge difference to someone who is struggling with symptoms of the menopause. Issues such as temperature and ventilation, uniform fabrics and access to facilities such as cold water and toilets need to be assessed to make sure adjustments suit workers who are suffering/struggling with symptoms.
Organise discussions with individuals to identify the specific issues/symptoms they are experiencing. Some examples of adjustments that could be made:
- Private areas for women to rest/recover or make calls they may need for support (Professional or Personal).
- Flexible Working Time – They may need more breaks throughout the day or to come in later/leave earlier.
- Facilities such as adequate drinking water supplies, temperature control, portable fans and access to toilets/washroom.
It is important to manage performance proactively and positively. Performance may suffer during this time (which can last months, or years), so understanding the root cause will help to minimise the organisational impact. Organise regular informal discussions including relevant and constructive feedback, which helps to build trust as well as encouraging a two-way conversation. Take any health issues into consideration when reviewing performance and set reasonable timescales for improvement. You may also like to consider some external support such as therapy or coaching, or referring to any Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) that you may have. If you don’t have one, think about implementing one!
Supporting key symptoms
There are many adjustments you can make within the workplace to provide relief or support for symptoms your workforce could be experiencing.
Sleep disruption and/or night sweats – which could lead to more absence at work. Consider a flexible working arrangement if possible, such as working from home on an ad hoc basis, amend shift patterns or give the option to swap shifts on a temporary basis until symptoms abate.
Hot flushes and/or daytime sweats – ensure access to a cool working environment, which could be achieved using a fan, air conditioning or by sitting closer to a window. It is also important to give access to cold drinking water and washrooms to increase comfort levels. Some organisations provide a “comfort” room to allow people to freshen up, or if needed change clothes during the working day if sweats are particularly severe.
Heavy/irregular periods – this can be particularly embarrassing, especially if they are prone to “flooding”; unexpected heavy bleeding. Providing a working from home option can help. However, where this isn’t feasible ensure there is easy access to washrooms and toilet facilities at work and putting a range of products in the ‘ladies’, such as sanitary products, deodorants, fragrance etc makes women feel less of a nuisance!
Headaches and fatigue – experiencing this symptom regularly can be frustrating for both the employer and employee so, it may be a good idea to temporarily adjust work duties that may heighten this. Helping people remain hydrated is important, so provide access to chilled drinking water. You may also like to have a restroom for workers to go in when symptoms are high and regular breaks to take any medication they may need.
Muscular aches, bone and joint pain – a risk assessment will identify necessary adjustments to alleviate symptoms. It is also important to allow workers to move around or stay mobile dependant on their issues.
Psychological Issues – a variety of these can arise as a result of the menopause. Encourage open discussion in one-to-one meetings and address any adjustments to tasks and duties that may help. Allow access to professional services such as counselling or CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy). You could also provide a safe space they can go to for a break or allow to work from home when needed.
By educating yourself, senior, middle managers and your team about the symptoms of menopause and all the changes that can help to support people who are suffering, will ultimately help to create a better work environment for everyone. It not only shows you are caring for your workforce, but also that you are willing to make adjustments to support anyone who may be struggling with any psychological or physical health issues.