Eyes on wellbeing

Menopause in the workplace

October is Menopause Awareness Month, so OT  looked into how the Government is tackling menopause stigma, and what practical advice is available from the AOP

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Menopause Awareness Month gives a clear and focused reason for women’s health to be at the forefront of public discussion – especially during conversations around workplace wellbeing and how this might be improved in a post-COVID world.

In July, the first ever Women’s Health Strategy for England was published, aiming to ‘ensure women are better listened to’ and laying out some key points of action based on the concerns raised: 

  • An increase in shared decision making, after 84% of respondents in the call to evidence said they were not listened to by healthcare professionals
  • The creation of ‘women’s health hubs,’ to provide better access to services and less fragmentation in commissioning
  • An improvement to the level of available data on women’s health, in order to address ‘the women’s health data gap’
  • Improved education on issues relating to women’s health, after fewer than one in 10 respondents felt they had enough information on conditions in areas including menopause
  • Introduction of specific assessments on women’s health for medical students
  • Increased support for women at work, after a quarter of respondents said they had considered leaving work because of menopause.

Along with the publication of the strategy, Dame Lesley Regan was appointed the first Women’s Health Ambassador for England, in part to help target the issue of “silenced women’s voices.”

The strategy might sound like a good start, but Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Wes Streeting, was quick to point out that not all areas of concerns around women’s health were accounted for in the strategy. The shortage of Hormone Replacement Treatment, for example, which could be affecting up to a million menopausal and peri-menopausal women in the UK, has no specific focus.

Clearly, there is more work to do – including addressing stigma and embarrassment that surrounds many women’s health conditions, such as the menopause.

A survey by the Women’s Health and Equalities Committee, published in February, highlighted menopause stigma specifically, as well as noting that one in three women have missed work because of menopause symptoms, and that privacy concerns and fear of receiving an adverse reaction lead women not to seek out support. Most women, the report found, do not tell anyone at work that they are going through the menopause, despite the majority saying it affects their work. 

To that end, 2022 has also seen the creation of the UK Menopause Taskforce, chaired by Maria Caulfield MP. The group aims to address workplace stigma, alongside other issues, including better access to treatment.

There are clear reasons for this need, aside from the obvious desire to improve women’s wellbeing.

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Nokes MP, has highlighted the “legal, social and economic imperative” of supporting women “through a normal life transition, so we can hold on to role models for the next generation.”

So, the Government might be working on longer-term, structural changes – but what can women approaching or facing this period in their life do right now to make things easier? The AOP has recently published guidance for members addressing this question.

Handling the menopause: AOP guidance

The AOP advises those approaching the menopause consider their diet and exercise regime. Because there is a high chance of osteoporosis during the menopause, keeping your bones strong in advance of that process is a good idea. Strength training might help in this.

When it comes to the menopause affecting work, the AOP advises having an open and frank conversation with your employer.

There are legal regulations in terms of how employers have to support women in the workplace who are experiencing the menopause, and especially symptoms that could affect the way they work. It is an employer’s duty to be able to accommodate these.

It is understandable that you might feel more comfortable talking to a female colleague or line manager about the issue. If you have a male manager, though, you can still have the conversation – or even take in a female colleague, if that makes you feel more comfortable.

It’s the employer's responsibility to accommodate your needs, whether that means allowing you to change what you wear to work if you’re experiencing hot flushes or altering your working hours to accommodate exhaustion.

If the menopause is causing declining mental health, time and space for appointments must be given as would be the case with any other health issue.

When approaching the conversation itself, you should consider what you want to talk about ahead of time, and potentially go in with a list of things to address in case you do find yourself getting nervous or losing your pattern of thinking.

Going into the meeting with solutions is helpful. Employers are often under-equipped to support women with menopause issues, so being in a position where you can help support them to support you is a good idea. Go in with ideas for what you would like to see changed, or what solutions you might want the business to put in place for you. This will put you in a more confident position, and help in exploring options.

It's important to remember that employers might not be aware of the challenges of the menopause, or what their responsibilities are towards their staff. Giving them the link to the AOP’s menopause resources in advance of the conversation, allowing them to educate themselves, could be helpful.

Ultimately, your employer might need some support, and it might be helpful for you to start your discussion with a bit of education around what they need to know. After all, supporting you is going to benefit their business – so it pays to make it clear that you’re all in it together.