Important things for employers to know about the menopause and how it affects women in the workplace.
The menopause can affect women in lots of different ways. It’s a common view that ‘women of a certain age’ can get a bit hot and flustered and may open a window to cool down or fan themselves with whatever comes to hand, but many people don’t actually know much more than that about it.
What employers should know about the menopause
- Menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce (Professor Jo Brewis, co-author Government Report on Menopause). According to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine Faculty of Occupational Medicine, almost eight out of 10 of menopausal women are in work.
- The menopause is a natural time of ageing and is the time in every woman’s life when her periods stop and her ovaries lose their reproductive function. Usually, this occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK the average age is 51 (NHS). But around one in 100 women experience the menopause before 40 years of age. In a few exceptional cases women may become menopausal in their 30s, or even younger.
- Peri-menopause can occur for women from their mid-30s (or earlier) and is the period leading up to menopause. It is the beginning of a loss of oestrogen and progesterone. Women experience peri-menopause for several years. Once menstruation has ceased for 12 continuous months a women is deemed to have hit menopause – and is then considered to be post-menopausal – and the next stage begins with a slightly different label. This is the part when the majority of the oestrogen has almost certainly ‘left the building’ and there are physical effects due to the continuation of the effects of the loss of those hormones.
- Women make up almost 70 per cent of the local government workforce and almost three quarters of our workforce are 40-64 years old which means that at any time a significant proportion of our workforce will experiencing symptoms of the menopause.
- On average, most symptoms last around 4 years from when a woman’s periods end, however, around 1 in every 10 women experience them for up to 12 years (NHS menopause symptoms page).
- Some trans and non-binary employees may also go through the menopause due to changes in hormones (often with little support available) and employers should extend offers of support to these staff to be inclusive.
- Symptoms range from cognitive, physical and psychological, and can include:
- hot flushes (sometimes followed by chills)
- heart palpitations
- sleep disturbance
- dry eye condition
- muscular aches
- night sweats
- skin irritation
- irritability, anxiety and/or mood disturbances
- poor concentration
- the need for more toilet breaks.
- Those who don’t experience the more obvious symptoms will all still undergo physiological changes that will have an impact on their health (e.g. heart disease, bone density and osteoporosis).
- Research led by Kings College suggests that low oestrogen levels (symptomatic of the menopause) can mean more women are at risk of suffering from long covid
- These symptoms can have a significant impact on women in the workplace and can affect their performance. A recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey reported that three out of five (59 per cent) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work. Nearly a third (30 per cent) of women in the CIPD survey said they had taken sick leave because of their symptoms and, according to the Wellbeing of Women survey in 2016, one in four women even considered leaving their jobs because of the impact of their symptoms in the workplace.
It’s important to note that the Equality Act 2010 tells us that although the menopause is not an illness or disability, the effects of the symptoms experienced can be disabling for women which means that employers who fail to properly support women could be found to be discriminatory.
There has been a significant rise in the number of employment tribunals that involve the treatment of workers going through the menopause, with menopause increasingly referred to alongside other issues in cases where claimants are seeking to contest a dismissal as unfair or discriminatory.