The first in our series of articles explores the issues surrounding the topic.
It’s not an exaggeration in the slightest: the menopause can seriously impact work life and it is not being talked about sufficiently.
There is a serious need for laws and regulations that address menopause and the workplace. In 2017, the Government Equalities Office released an incredibly comprehensive report that outlines a multitude of studies done over the years regarding the effect of the menopause on women in the workforce. Notably, the study found that negative effects ‘include lower productivity, reduced job satisfaction and problems with time management’.
There are a number of factors at play here. Most office spaces are not designed with the menopause in mind. Poor ventilation, lack of access to cold drinking water, and poor or non-existent rest facilities are common conditions in work spaces, which can make handling hot flushes, fatigue, difficultly concentrating and irritability (among other symptoms) practically impossible.
…a third of respondents reported management criticism of menopause-related sick leave…
Added to this, raising the subject of the menopause with your supervisor or boss can be incredibly uncomfortable. A 2010 study by The British Occupational Health Research Foundation and the University of Nottingham, which surveyed 900 women, found that ‘when women asked to take time off for menopause symptoms, only half of them disclosed the real reason to their line managers, especially when the managers were younger or male’ (this becomes even more apparent given the notable exception to this when managers were older men with wives or partners who had experienced the menopause). Similarly, a 2003 Trade Union Congress study, which surveyed 500 safety representatives, found that about a third of respondents reported management criticism of menopause-related sick leave, and over a third reported embarrassment or difficulties discussing the menopause with employers.
In other words, the menopause can be difficult or embarrassing to talk about with your employer, especially if they’re younger or male. They might not understand, and they might think you’re just being lazy or making excuses. This is why specific laws regarding the menopause and the workplace are absolutely imperative.
Ultimately, employers have the responsibility of protecting employees’ health, safety, and welfare at work and this should include the menopause.
That said, there is some legislation in place. Under the Equality Act of 2010, women can claim ‘sex discrimination’ if they are unfairly treated due to the menopause. In fact, a recent unfair dismissal tribunal case did in fact find employers culpable of ‘sex discrimination’ for failing to consider menopause symptoms in the same way as other medical conditions. Additionally, the Faculty of Occupational Medicine introduced new guidelines for women entitled ‘Guidance on menopause and the workplace’, based on guidelines produced by the European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS). However, again, these are not enshrined in law quite yet.
Ultimately, employers have the responsibility of protecting employees’ health, safety, and welfare at work and this should include the menopause. Until legislation comes into force, there are little things you can do to help yourself. For example, keeping a desk fan at your desk and wearing layers in the office can help with hot flushes. Keeping hydrated by drinking lots of water is also very important as this helps regulate your body temperature and aids optimum brain function. Try talking to your manager or your team about more flexible work hours, so that if you need to come in a little later because of a sleepless night, you can. The more open you can be, the better!