Menopausal discrimination in the workplace: Advice for HR
Almost a million women in the UK left the workforce in late July 2021 due to menopause symptoms – which range from hot flashes and fatigue to mood changes and panic attacks. Consequently, the cross-party Women and Equalities Committee has launched an inquiry to investigate existing legislation and workplace practices surrounding menopause, along with its impact on gender equality.
With three in every five women negatively affected at work as a result of menopause, this is a huge issue that must be uncovered and addressed. After all, menopause is a life event that happens to every single woman. In this Pacific Prime UK article, we take a closer look at menopausal discrimination in the workplace and offer practical advice for HR.
Menopause in the workplace
According to recent research by Circle In, an employee experience platform, 48% of menopausal women have experienced a drop in confidence in the workplace. Similarly, 46% found that hiding their experience made them more stressed. The negative impact at work due to menopause is also having a knock-on effect on the gender pay gap and the prevalence of women in senior positions.
Excluding menopausal women from the office affects more than just the individual. It’s detrimental to the UK’s economy, society and global standing. Even though hundreds of thousands of UK women are going through the mentally and physically draining process of menopause at this very moment, it continues to be ignored in legislation.
What the committee is calling for
The committee’s goal is to bring menopause discrimination to light and go over existing legislation to see if any changes are necessary. It also seeks to consider the challenges of going through menopause that those who don’t identify as women face. Additionally, it is asking for evidence from organisations and individuals about current practices.
What HR can do to improve menopausal discrimination
Along with possibly providing evidence regarding menopause at work, there are some things that HR can do to improve the situation for individuals going through menopause.
Establish a menopause policy
At present, legislation protects individuals from discrimination based on:
However, several requests have been made for additional measures, including introducing menopause policies. Employers who are considering introducing a menopause workplace policy should start by talking to employees.
By engaging in an open dialogue, employers can determine what type of policy would be welcome and become aware of potential challenges. It also presents an opportunity for employees to express any first-hand experiences they’ve had with menopausal discrimination in the workplace.
Deal with stigma
According to a 2021 Vodafone report, 50% of UK women experiencing menopause notice the stigma tied to discussing it in the workplace – thereby causing 33% to conceal how they’re feeling. One way that HR can help tackle stigma surrounding menopause at work is to create more open conversations surrounding employee health.
For example, companies can host menopause discussion groups, provide menopause training for managers and offer access to information. Remember that policies are only as good as those who use them. Ensuring HR and managers are aware of menopause, such as through training and workshops, and what they can do to support employees is vital.
Essentially, employers must do what they can to make it ok to discuss menopause in the workplace.
Make appropriate adjustments
Employers have been prompted to make appropriate adjustments (e.g. more flexible hours) to help menopausal employees. Look at existing policies and consider what additions or reasonable adjustments can help address the needs of menopausal women. The idea is to find ways to help and support women going through menopause instead of completely starting from scratch.
Workplaces can achieve this in different ways. Even so, there are some practical changes that employers can implement to help menopausal employees. For instance, HR can encourage employees to discuss their personal symptoms and offer suggestions for improving working conditions. Suggestions may include:
- Unlimited access to cold drinking water
- Providing desk fans
- Environmental temperature control
- Natural lighting
- Natural fabrics for uniforms
- Reducing noise exposure
- Accessible rest areas
- Counselling and support
Another simple yet fundamental practical change is flexible working arrangements. For instance, companies can reduce working times/hours, allow for additional breaks and make home working an option. In addition, leave should be approved at short notice if necessary.
Implementing simple measures is a win-win solution. There is no reason why businesses cannot begin to implement at least some of these changes.
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