Menopause and the workplace: Creating the right culture

By Dr Louise Slaney, IMM

How do employers, including those in the energy sector, approach the issue and ensure they’re providing the right support to menopausal staff?
How do employers, including those in the energy sector, approach the issue and ensure they’re providing the right support to menopausal staff?

A series of high-profile celebrity interventions in recent times has significantly raised the profile of the menopause and sought to break down the stigma surrounding the topic. Stars including Davina McCall and Lorraine Kelly have spoken out in a bid to normalise the issue and support organisations campaigning to end the taboo around it.

It’s estimated that around 13 million women in the UK are currently peri- or post-menopausal – but because it’s not a regarded as a medical condition or illness, the symptoms that can come with it are not always given due consideration.

And it remains a live workforce issue: according to a survey, 81% of working women say the menopause has had a negative impact on them at work, while 87% say their supervisor or line manager would benefit from menopause training.

In another survey, almost one-third (30%) say they’d taken sick leave because of their symptoms but only one-quarter (25%) say they felt able to tell the truth about their absence, the others citing privacy concerns, embarrassment or unsupportive management for not doing so.

So how do employers, including those in the energy sector, approach the issue and ensure they’re providing the right support to menopausal staff?

What sort of impact can the issue have for women in the workplace?
For the menopausal woman who is experiencing symptoms – and bear in mind a quarter of women suffer with severe symptoms – it can result in a reduced sense of engagement with their work and an understandable drop in productivity levels as they potentially deal with tiredness, poor concentration, insomnia, low confidence and hot flushes. They may even contemplate quitting their job altogether.

What are the key first steps for employers to take to turn this prevailing culture around?
They need to foster a workplace environment in which women feel comfortable asking for help when they need it.

Specifically, line managers need to be equipped with the skills to be able to hold sensitive conversations with menopausal colleagues so they can identify and implement necessary changes.

What might these changes look like?
They can be very practical in nature: adapting the working environment by, for example, resetting the temperature or providing fans. Or it might involve offering the option of flexible hours.

Employers can also ensure health and wellbeing guidance is readily available as it relates to the menopause. It should include encouragement that women seek advice from their GPs on how they might effectively manage their symptoms.

In essence, the menopause should be directly addressed in any company’s occupational health policy – in effect, treated like any other health condition.

What are the business implications of not embracing this approach?
The skills and experience of older workers should never be under-valued. They represent a significant business investment, and they could be compromised – or even lost – if employees don’t feel supported through their condition.

As I mentioned earlier, an occupational health policy that includes clear guidance and best practice when it comes to managing the menopause in the workplace should be the central feature of any strategy.

It serves to create a culture of engagement and actively promote wellbeing. And it helps to preserve productivity levels for the business. In short, everyone benefits.

World Menopause Day takes place on Tuesday, 18 October

Expertise … Dr Louise Slaney, medical director Aberdeen-based International Medical Management (IMM)

International Medical Management (IMM) provides occupational health, medical and other services to the onshore and offshore sectors. For more information, visit www.intmedical.com.