Jo Brewis: Employers need to know how to support staff during menopause transition

Jo Brewis

The menopause is something all women experience. Symptoms typically begin during a woman’s forties, and include episodes of heavy or erratic periods, hot flushes, reduced concentration, insomnia and mood swings. The average age at menopause in industrialised countries is 51. The Equality Act (2010) protects both gender and age, and the first successful employment tribunal concerning the menopause was in 2012. Since more women in the UK are now working later in life, employers need to know how to support mid-life female employees during menopause transition.

Best practice starts with developing an organisational culture where discussions between managers, female employees, and their colleagues about menopause are as unremarkable as discussions about pregnancy or maternity leave. Managers will benefit from training about menopausal symptoms, particularly if it emphasises the uniqueness of each woman’s experience.

Adjustments to the organisational environment are also beneficial. Hot flushes can be difficult to manage at work because they are visible to others. Women report feeling that flushes undermine their professional image, and some aspects of work can make flushes worse. USB fans, cold drinking water, and lighter work wear can all help. Likewise, unpredictable periods and menstrual flooding are distressing, so clean, well-equipped toilet facilities with supplies of sanitary protection will help women cope.

Flexible-working policies are recommended, including allowing women to work from home after a poor night’s sleep or offering task rotation. Absence policies recognising menopause could also be introduced, so sick days taken as a result of symptoms do not detrimentally affect women’s careers.

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Making a range of solutions available would allow women to use those which help them the most. Many are low cost and straightforward. Improvements in the quality of mid-life women’s working lives and the reduction of effects on their performance or attendance are likely to be significant.

Jo Brewis is professor of organisation and consumption at the University of Leicester School of Business. She co-authored the Department for Education report The effects of menopause transition on women’s economic participation in the UK, published in July 2017, with Vanessa Beck, Andrea Davies, and Jesse Matheson