Gender differences are a topic that is never far from the spotlight, with equality regularly featured in the news.
A quick Google search of gender equality will almost certainly show a news story published today. There are far too many ways in which there is a lack of equality to discuss in one blog but we can focus on something specific.
According to a piece of Government Equalities Office research “The average age of natural menopause in industrialised countries is 51, so more working women than ever before will experience the menopause transition.” With a growing proportion of the workforce experiencing menopause, to support teams effectively managers must understand menopause. That doesn’t mean becoming an expert (unless they want to) but it does mean knowing the key information and what can be done about it.
What Is Menopause, When Does It Happen & Who Does It Affect?
In simple terms menopause is the time a woman stops having periods, it is a natural event that usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 although it can start earlier or later. It happens as oestrogen levels drop, so while it is natural it can also occur as a result of certain medical conditions or treatment.
Other terms you may hear are perimenopause and postmenopause. Peri means before the last period and post refers to after the last period. During perimenopause symptoms may start as periods become less regular or stop. When no period has been had for over a year this becomes postmenopause.
Although we have referred to when a woman stops having periods it is not only people who identify as women who can have symptoms, transgender men and other variations of gender identity may also go through menopause.
But, What Are The Symptoms?
The majority of women will experience physical and/or psychological symptoms although these can differ in both the type of symptom and the severity. Common symptoms include:
· Hot flushes
· Anxiety / depression and other mental health issues
· Difficulty sleeping
· Memory and concentration issues
· Skin changes
Why Do Something?
Looking at the above symptoms it is clear there is health and wellbeing concern for the individuals experiencing the symptoms. Some of the possible effects on the person going through menopause could be a loss of confidence in themselves or their skills and abilities, the increased experience of mental health conditions, time off work and even leaving the job entirely. Needless to say these effects in combination with some of the symptoms such as memory and concentration issues could lead to other work-specific issues.
Reason #1 – It’s the right thing to do to support team members experiencing menopause
Reason #2 – Employee relations issues can arise from symptoms and effects
Reason #3 – Losing the experience and quality of people due to not feeling supported is costly
Reason #4 – Menopause is indirectly covered by discrimination law (Equality Act 2010) so mismanagement could lead to legal issues.
What Can Managers Do?
After covering what it is and the possible effects on the individual and the workplace it seems appropriate to discuss what can actually be done by managers:
· Build an environment where people feel comfortable talking about menopause.
· Be concerned with their wellbeing, hold regular check-ins / informal 1-1’s, ask people how they are feeling regularly and assume nothing, listen and act if it is agreed.
· Consider health and safety and workplace adjustments. Managers should take the steps to reduce the impact of symptoms. Considerations could include:
o Flexible working
o Uniform material
o Access to comfort facilities
o Ensure cold drinking water is available
o Provide sanitary products
o Amended absence triggers
o Occupational health
The CIPD has outlined the following ways in which to manage performance affected by health issues:
· Have regular, informal catch-ups with employees.
· Approach performance conversations supportively and positively.
· Take any health issues fully into account where there is underperformance on the part of an individual.
· Identify any extra support or coaching the person may benefit from.
· Set reasonable timescales for improvements.
An individual going through menopause isn’t making a choice and experiencing the symptoms isn’t to be taken lightly. The effects menopause can have on individuals in the workplace can vary from non-existent to people leaving so it’s an important and significant issue that will affect organisations of all sizes.
For further advice and support on this and any other HR queries you may have, please do reach out to the team at Petaurum HR.