Director of Strategic Planning, Performance and Change at Acas
Acas Director Kate Nowicki explains the importance of employers being able to handle menopause sensitively and effectively.
When Acas published research on mental health three years ago, we noticed how much the menopause featured in our case studies. I was not entirely surprised. As one line manager in a private company said: “I’ve witnessed people that have been in their menopause that have been really depressed, to the point that they don’t want to be here anymore.” I have seen that for myself, amongst friends, colleagues and in businesses that I have worked with.
Of course, it’s not surprising that the menopause can have such a devastating impact at work. The trouble is that in many workplaces the menopause has been regarded as something not to be talked about. That was the case with mental health too until recently.
The last three years has seen a sea change in attitudes towards mental health. Similarly, we need to keep talking about the menopause so that is no longer seen as taboo. To help meet this challenge, Acas recently launched new menopause guidance. Our aim is to raise awareness of this natural stage in a woman’s life and give tips so employers, managers and workers know what to do in practice in handling the menopause sensitively and effectively at work.
Changing the culture
Michele Piertney, an Acas Senior Adviser based in Manchester, has developed new training to accompany the guidance. Speaking to her recently, she said she was motivated to develop the training by observing people’s attitudes over many years. From young women sniggering at the mention of menopause at work to male-dominated board rooms that want to look the other way out of sheer embarrassment. You can hear more from Michelle in her recent blog here.
In researching and compiling the guidance, we also realised that many employers and managers are simply unsure how to properly manage workers going through the menopause. So, by default, they ignore it, or think they don’t have time for it or that it is of little consequence. Or, they give the excuse that it is just too tricky to deal with.
However, the sad fact remains that in far too many workplaces women in their late forties and early fifties have been left to cope with the difficulties that the menopause can bring, with little or no support. And as our mental health research has shown, this can mean a woman feeling she has no choice but to leave her job.
So what can we all do?
Handling this health and wellbeing concern sensitively and effectively is not just about staying on the right side of the law. It is ethically the right thing to do, and there is a very strong business case too.
It is forecast that employers will need to retain the skills and experience of workers over 50 because of Britain’s falling birth rate. Which, of course, will include retaining and hiring women going through the menopause.
Managing the menopause at work requires sensitivity, tact and knowhow, but it is not beyond the capability of any manager with the necessary knowledge and training. Here are a few of the tips for managers from the new Acas guidance:
- have regular one-to-one contact with your workers in the course of their work – it should make it easier to talk with them;
- be aware of the range of symptoms of the menopause – these can include feeling tired and lacking energy, mood swings, anxiety and panic attacks, hot flushes and struggling to concentrate, focus and remember things;
- make sure menopausal symptoms are not made worse by the workplace – health and safety checks should take into account the effects of menopause symptoms;
- know how to talk with a worker – for example, you must leave it with them to raise their menopause concern;
- be prepared to discuss and agree changes with a worker to help them manage their menopausal symptoms at work.
For more information, visit acas.org.uk/menopause