We need to end the taboo of discussing the menopause at work

On World Menopause Day, Susan Clews explains the importance of employers being able to handle the condition sensitively and effectively

When Acas published research on mental health three years ago, we were surprised to find how much the menopause featured in some of our case studies. As one line manager in a private company said: “I’ve witnessed people that have been in their menopause that have been really depressed, to the point that they don’t want to be here anymore.”

Of course, it’s not surprising that the menopause can have such a devastating impact at work. The trouble is that in many workplaces the menopause has been regarded as something not to be talked about. That was the case with mental health too until recently.

But, like mental health, the menopause must no longer be taboo. To help meet this challenge, today on World Menopause Day, Acas is launching new guidance. Its aim is to raise awareness of this natural stage in a woman’s life and give tips so employers, managers and workers know what to do in practice in handling the menopause sensitively and effectively at work. 

Michele Piertney, an Acas Senior Adviser, has developed new training to accompany the guidance. Speaking to her recently, she said she was motivated to develop the training by observing people’s attitudes over many years. From young women sniggering at the mention of menopause at work to male-dominated board rooms that want to look the other way out of sheer embarrassment.

In researching and compiling the guidance, we also realised that many employers and managers are simply unsure how to properly manage workers going through the menopause. So, by default, they ignore the matter, or think they don’t have time for it or that it is of little consequence. Or, they give the excuse that it is just too tricky to deal with.

However, the sad fact remains that in far too many workplaces women in their late forties and early fifties have been left to cope with the difficulties that the menopause can bring, with little or no support. And as our mental health research has shown, this can mean a woman feeling she has no choice but to leave her job.

If we need more compelling evidence of why we should act, let’s remember some of the findings from the CIPD’s excellent research:  

  • three in five women go through the menopause saying their symptoms have a negative impact on them at work;
  • women take time off work ill, but don’t tell their employer the reason is because of the menopause;
  • women go through the menopause feeling more supported by their colleagues than their manager.

Handling this health and wellbeing concern sensitively and effectively is not just about staying on the right side of the law. It is ethically the right thing to do, and there is a very strong business case too.

It is forecast that employers will need to retain the skills and experience of workers over 50 because of Britain’s falling birth rate. Which, of course, will include retaining and hiring women going through the menopause.

Managing the menopause at work requires sensitivity, tact and knowhow, but it is not beyond the capability of any manager with the necessary knowledge and training. Here are a few of the tips for managers from the new Acas guidance:

  • have regular one-to-one contact with your workers in the course of their work – it should make it easier to talk with them;
  • be aware of the range of symptoms of the menopause – these can include feeling tired and lacking energy, mood swings, anxiety and panic attacks, hot flushes and struggling to concentrate, focus and remember things;
  • make sure menopausal symptoms are not made worse by the workplace – health and safety checks should take into account the effects of menopause symptoms;
  • know how to talk with a worker – for example, you must leave it with them to raise their menopause concern;
  • be prepared to discuss and agree changes with a worker to help them manage their menopausal symptoms at work.

For more information, visit acas.org.uk/menopause.

Susan Clews is chief executive of Acas