Menopause is defined as the point at which a woman hasn't had a menstrual period for 12 months without there being any other physical cause. This occurs due to a reduction in reproductive hormones and typically happens when a woman is between 45 and 55 years old.
While menopause itself can be pinpointed to a single day, menopause symptoms can last much longer. Perimenopause, when hormone levels begin to drop, can start several years before menopause occurs. Women can experience various menopause symptoms during perimenopause and after menopause has occurred.
The proper workplace support can help menopausal women manage their symptoms and continue to work.
There are around 25 menopausal symptoms that menopausal women can experience. While most women will likely only experience a few, they can significantly impact their ability to work and function on a daily basis. Some symptoms will mainly affect menopausal women in their personal lives but can also impact their mental health in the workplace environment.
Here are a few of the menopausal symptoms women may experience.
Irregular or abnormal periods
Menopausal women experience changes to their periods, which can occasionally result in physical symptoms, such as flooding, which is just as unpleasant as it sounds.
Some physical menopausal symptoms are better known than others and can include:
- Hot flushes
- Sleep disturbance
- Joint pain and aching muscles
- Weight gain
- Headaches and migraines
- Heart palpitations
- Vaginal dryness and pain resulting in a reduced sex drive
- Dry or itchy skin
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
As you can see, while some of these symptoms won't directly impact menopausal employees' ability to work, they can impact their overall well-being. Some could also result in increased sickness absence or a need for investigations if your employee isn't aware they are experiencing menopausal symptoms.
Menopausal symptoms can seriously affect employees' mental health and impact their ability to work effectively. Menopausal employees can experience low mood, low self-esteem, mood swings and anxiety.
One of the most common symptoms is brain fog, where women have issues with memory loss and poor concentration. That could directly impact their ability to focus and perform essential tasks.
There are many different ways that your business can support women during menopause. As mentioned, menopause symptoms can take several forms, with many women experiencing a combination of physical and psychological symptoms. Supporting women struggling with hot flushes or brain fog can involve many different approaches. It's best to take a flexible approach and be prepared to offer a range of measures to support team members. Then, they can access the support most relevant to their needs.
A good starting point is often to carry out a risk assessment to assess the impact different menopausal symptoms could have on your employees and their work. It's your legal duty to carry out appropriate risk assessments concerning any potential risks you're aware of. The HSE has templates to guide you if necessary. These can then form the basis of the measures you take to support your employees.
Menopause friendly policies
When you set out the ways you plan to support staff with menopausal symptoms in a written policy, you can offer clear guidance to every employee and create a supportive workplace culture. Whilst a specific menopause policy can be helpful in some ways, other policies can also be beneficial. For example, how you heat and light your premises can affect menopausal symptoms. The way you structure breaks or offer flexible working can impact menopausal colleagues. You can mention these in a menopause policy, but it's also worth considering menopausal symptoms when you create other workplace policies.
Flexible working policies
Flexible hours can benefit many staff, such as parents with young children and staff with caring responsibilities. They can also allow workers with menopausal symptoms to shift their hours to work around them. For example, if they experience increased brain fog towards the end of the day, an earlier start and finish time can help. Flexible hours can also enable staff to attend medical appointments as necessary.
Fatigue can also be a significant challenge. Allowing staff to work from home will enable them to work at their own pace or take regular breaks while keeping up with their workloads. Adjusting or reducing their workload may also be appropriate. Reducing the amount of work a menopausal team member does may not be a practical option. However, consider whether you can reduce the complexity of their work.
Other reasonable adjustments
We've mentioned allowing staff to work from home to enable them to take short breaks where necessary. However, you can also implement this in the office. Adopting a 'no questions asked' approach to breaks at irregular times allows women to manage their symptoms, for example, by going outside to cool down. This will require careful management to assess the impact on their performance and start conversations about any health issues they may be facing.
Many women experience hot flushes that can make them extremely uncomfortable, particularly during colder months when the office heating is turned on. Working from home can allow women to manage their comfort more easily. However, you may also want to consider how you can adjust the environmental controls in your workplace. Providing cool rooms or cold drinking water can offer a simple solution.
Menopausal symptoms can lead to increased sickness absence. It's worth reviewing your policy to decide how to manage absence connected with menopause issues.
Mental health support
Menopause symptoms can affect people in different ways. Both physical and psychological symptoms can be distressing. Good mental health support can help women to manage their menopause symptoms and receive appropriate treatment where needed.
A supportive working environment is helpful. However, you may wish to go further and offer formal psychological support by providing staff with access to counselling. This type of service can benefit your whole team, not just women going through the menopause. However, menopause can bring symptoms including anxiety, depression and mood swings, which counselling can help to treat.
Employee assistance programs often include access to counselling and helplines offering mental well-being advice, which can be a cost-effective way to provide support.
Appropriate staff training lets you raise awareness of menopause so team members can understand what their colleagues are experiencing. This can help you create a more open culture and destigmatise talking about menopause.
The training can take various forms. Offering online resources allows staff to educate themselves. However, employees who are already going through menopause may be more likely to access these to understand their symptoms and seek advice. You'll likely need to arrange face-to-face or mandatory online training sessions to increase general awareness.
It's vital that managers receive training to understand how they can support menopausal workers and develop appropriate workplace policies. Proper training could include an awareness of symptoms and their potential impact on health and safety.
Menopause forums and support
Supportive peers and line managers can help staff going through the menopause understand that they aren't alone. A positive company culture that treats menopause as a normal part of life rather than a taboo subject can go a long way towards supporting women and enabling them to work effectively during this time.
Staff training can create an open culture where women can discuss their symptoms with their colleagues and line managers. However, you may also wish to create staff forums where women can find peer-to-peer support and develop new coping strategies. Appointing a menopause champion who liaises with management can inform you of any challenges and listen to suggestions about new workplace policies or reasonable adjustments.
Health insurance is a valuable employee benefit that can provide your team with quick access to private medical treatment. Business health insurance can also provide employee assistance programs, including counselling sessions and access to telephone helplines offering health and well-being advice.
Many health insurers also provide support services designed for menopausal women to help them manage their symptoms and access appropriate medical care.
Access to medical care
Health insurance covers acute conditions that respond to treatment. It doesn't cover chronic illnesses that require long-term monitoring and management. Menopause is a natural process that can't be cured. Treatment often takes the form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which needs monitoring in the long term, so health insurance doesn't cover it.
However, depending on your chosen policy, health insurance can help your employees get a diagnosis and recommendations for further treatment. For example, Bupa's menopause treatment plan includes an appointment with a trained GP and a personalised care plan. They can also provide onward referrals if your employee needs to see a counsellor or physiotherapist to help them manage their symptoms.
Some symptoms can be similar to other health problems, such as dementia or musculoskeletal issues, so your health insurance can cover tests to provide the correct diagnosis.
Health insurance can help your employees access support services. It can also provide you with support and advice enabling you to create wellness initiatives. These initiatives can encourage staff to stay active and eat well, so they are great for improving employee health overall. However, they can also benefit menopausal employees struggling with hormone-related weight gain.
Health insurance providers offer different menopause support services. For example, Vitality provides menopause information online, referrals for some treatments and access to the Peppy app. The app offers personalised support via a messaging service, video consultations and peer-to-peer support groups.
Most insurers provide access to counselling and telephone helplines offering health information and advice. Some are available to all health insurance customers, while others are offered via an employee assistance program. While these aren't designed specifically for menopause, they can be a valuable resource for helping your staff manage their symptoms.
Get in touch
The right health insurance can provide your team with quick access to high-quality healthcare and help you support your employees through menopause. We're a specialist broker providing independent, tailored advice to help you find the best health insurance for your staff. Contact us for a comparison quote.