Blog: Menopause in the Workplace – A personal perspective from an HR professional

At our recent Employment Law Update event, I led a slot on ‘menopause in the workplace’. I have been developing a keen interest in this over the last year and I wanted to share some good practice ideas. I also feel compelled to continue to write about menopause after seeing some rather scary (but not altogether surprising) outcomes from a recent study.  Forth with Life studied 1,000 female professionals over the age of 45 and found:

  • 90% of workplaces are not currently supporting employees with menopause related issues.
  • 77% of respondents had either been through the menopause or were currently experiencing menopause symptoms yet almost none felt they were receiving the support they needed.

Following our event, I was contacted by an HR professional who wrote to me with her own experience of menopause in the workplace. As it is such a useful article, she has kindly agreed for me to circulate this more widely.  I found it extremely useful and I hope you do too.

Here it is.

Anne-Marie Boyle
Partner
 or call 0117 325 0924

“A personal view of menopause in the workplace” by an HR professional

My own experience of the menopause has not been the best.  I’ve had hot flushes throughout the day and night for the past 12 years (sometimes as frequently as every 45 minutes); I’ve suffered from poor concentration, memory issues (both recall and retention); and as a result of the flushes, I’ve experienced frequently disturbed sleep.  I went from someone who prided herself on having a really good memory, to doing a favourable impression of Dory from the film Finding Dory!

However, compared to some people, I’ve not been too badly hit.  I know from speaking with friends that some have had to get up in the night to change their bedding because of how much they have perspired. I’m also aware that the menopause can contribute to mood swings but I haven’t experienced that either, fortunately.

During this time, I’ve also been working, sometimes as a freelance HR consultant, and at others as an HR Interim.  It’s probably fair to say that in at least 75% of meetings that I’ve had to attend, I have had one or more hot flushes during this time.  Some have felt almost self-fulfilling – the more I’ve worried about not having a flush, the more likely it has happened (it’s not commonly known that anxiety can contribute to flushes too).

Menopause symptoms can differ from woman to woman and so, whilst some people prefer to keep their symptoms as private as possible, others like me have brought the issue out in to the open, mainly because I felt that, as some of my symptoms were so visible, I had less choice to disguise it.

So the way I dealt with it was by:

  • Being very open with my team about what I was going through.
  • Warning any co-worker to whom I was speaking if I was about to experience a hot flush.
  • Telling my team that my memory was affected and that they might need to remind me of any previous advice I had given if my subsequent guidance differed.
  • Asking my team for help when needing to remember anything that I had forgotten.
  • Making sure that I made as many notes as I needed to, to act as a memory aid.
  • Asking my team to let me know if I repeated myself because whilst I might recall that I had told a particular tale before, I had forgotten to whom I had said it.
  • Explaining to visitors to my office that I might need to keep the window open during meetings.

However, I was senior enough and confident enough to be this open.  I don’t know if I would have felt the same if I had been performing a more junior role or felt I couldn’t speak up.

Here’s what I think would have helped me and other women in the workplace:

  • Consider having a menopause champion within the HR team to whom employees can speak.  The champion can help them understand what, if any, adjustments might help. They could also prepare the employee for any conversation that might need to take place with their line manager, to articulate their situation clearly and to avoid any embarrassment or awkwardness from either party
  • In any training or awareness sessions, stress that:
    a) the menopause is a fact of life for women and is often an uncomfortable experience for them to go through, physically and/or mentally;b
    b) for some the menopause can illicit painful emotions, particularly if it means that their child-bearing years are over or if they have to resign themselves to never having the chance to have children; so tread carefully and be sensitive to the psychological impact that the menopause has;
  • Please resist the temptation to:
    a) say “have you tried….” – if I had a pound for every suggestion that people have given me around what I could take etc. I wouldn’t need to work again!
    b) laugh at the symptoms e.g. hot flushes.  Believe me, they are not fun.
    c) make fun of the person going through this stage in their life.  Most mockery is borne out of ignorance so become informed, respectful and sensitive rather than trying to get a cheap laugh at someone else’s expense.
    d) write the sufferer off because you’ve become aware of their age and stage in life.  Just because the body’s hormones have shifted, it doesn’t mean the individual’s career aspirations have too.
  • Also my role was office based and, because of the role I was performing, I had large degrees of autonomy on steps I could take e.g. going outside if I needed to.  For some roles (e.g. supermarket checkout workers), that option isn’t always available.  So when considering reasonable adjustments, take into account what might help the employee cope with their symptoms as they perform their daily tasks.  There has been many a time when I have delighted in the temperature of the frozen food aisle!!
  • In terms of performance management, recognise that some sufferers may have had a series of broken night’s sleep so factor that it in if you see a deterioration in their work.  In the same light, memory and concentration can be affected, and is outside of their control, so either cut them some slack if this is noticed or help them find ways to compensate by e.g. taking more notes, making reminders, but without making a big deal about it.  The last thing the employee would want is to be made to feel even more conspicuous about what they are going through.
  • And finally, try to get the balance right between being helpful and not making too much of a fuss.  The symptoms can be embarrassing and uncomfortable enough on their own without well intentioned people adding to it.

I really hope you’ve found these hints and tips as useful as I did and thank you to my HR contact for sharing them.  You can read by 2 previous menopause blogs here and here.

I am currently in the process of creating menopause policies and documentation for some of our clients as well as reviewing Equal Opportunities training to include the menopause for others.  If I can help your business on menopause (or any other employment law issues) please do get in touch on 0117 325 0924 or .