Why HR must focus on education and managers to reduce the impact of menopause

As World Menopause Month draws to a close, Imogen Cardwell sends an important reminder to support people struggling with symptoms at work

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MPs are calling on employers to do more to reduce sickness absence linked to menopause, after an inquiry found that “the majority of employers do not consider menopause a proper health condition and do not have policies in place to support staff going through it”.

Over half (59 per cent) of women said menopause symptoms, ranging from fatigue to memory issues, negatively affect them at work, causing one in ten to quit their job as a result.

That is a tremendous shame because, with the right education and support from their manager, women can be helped to stay well and in work.

Educate women about menopause from the age of 35

Although the menopause is clearly defined as having occurred 12 months after a woman has her last period, symptoms can start 15 years before this. Women in the UK reach menopause aged 51, on average, so this means women in their late 30s to mid-40s can start to struggle with fatigue, memory loss and anxiety, without understanding what’s happening to them.

Many women don’t realise they’ve entered the perimenopause, the time when their body starts to transition to menopause, and mistakenly assume they just can’t cope with the pressures they’re under. This can lead to them giving up work or getting referred into occupational health for work-related stress. Yet what they’re really experiencing is a hormonal imbalance that can easily be treated or managed with the right support.

Critical to supporting more women is educating them about the perimenopause from the age of 35, so they know what to expect and where to go for help and advice. Otherwise, unless they’re significantly older and experiencing hot flushes and symptoms more typically linked to menopause, they won’t realise they’re entering menopause and might struggle to cope.

Train managers to signpost to support

Managers are often the first people in the business to recognise when someone is struggling. However, it can be more than a little daunting for a manager to open a conversation about menopause, so make sure they’re trained to do this. 

Younger and male managers might have no concept of what it feels like to go through the menopause and to feel like you suddenly can’t do basic things, such as remembering words or giving presentations, that you used to excel at. By educating them what the symptoms of the menopause and perimenopause are and how this can impact on the ability of someone to at work, you can help them to become more aware, empathetic and understanding.

They can then use this empathy to gently take women who might be exhibiting symptoms of menopause aside to say, “I’ve noticed you seem to be struggling with certain things lately.” They can then let them know about wellbeing resources the company has in place to help, including perimenopause information and self-assessments in case it’s linked to that.

Make reasonable adjustments

For many women, treatments such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can make a huge difference to their symptoms. For others, you might need to consider reasonable adjustments.

If someone is struggling with fatigue or sleep issues, allowing them to work more flexibly for a time can be very beneficial. If someone is struggling with their memory, encouraging them to write things down or offering technology that issues automatic reminders can help.

Each person’s needs will be unique, so it’s important for managers to talk to the individual about what might be helpful to them. If they’re not sure, an occupational health or wellbeing provider can conduct a short clinical assessment to provide clear recommendations. These will be designed to keep the person performing and in work, so save money in the long run.

Write a menopause policy

Older women are often at the peak of their careers, with a wealth of knowledge and skills that can be passed onto others, so it’s important to retain and look after them. Introducing a menopause policy shows you value them and want to look after them.

Talk to women who have already gone through menopause about what would have helped them and write and promote your policy in an accessible way. Make sure women know they won’t be discriminated against. Explain the role of their manager in supporting them and what menopause resources and education you offer.

It can also be useful to think about how your menopause policy will align with other diversity, inclusion and wellbeing policies. This sort of openness will make the topic less taboo and encourage women to come forward for support when they need it.

Imogen Cardwell is clinical operations director for PAM OH