Managing the menopause – bringing SME’s out in a hot flush
Updated: Jun 25
Anxiety, headaches, broken sleep – all symptoms of the menopause, but it seems these can also be common symptoms for the SME employers and line managers who are responsible for staff without proper guidance on how to provide appropriate support during this time.
In May 2021, Davina McCall presented a programme on Channel 4 – Sex, Myths and the Menopause – which exposed the lack of basic information and support available to women in the UK. It also highlighted the significant impact the menopausal transition can have on short and long term physical and mental health. We now realise, as a responsible employer, there are significant implications, both in terms of providing the humanitarian and legal support required, but also to manage the impact on productivity, absenteeism, lost intellectual capital and staff churn.
The cost to business is potentially huge. 9/10 women who’ve experienced the menopause felt it had a negative effect on their working life, with 25% experiencing severe symptoms. Couple this with the over-50s being the fastest growing group of workers in the UK, and ‘Houston, we’ve got a problem.’
It’s clear the menopause cannot be a silent topic in the workplace any longer. But if you’re an SME organisation without a designated HR function, where to begin? There are two clear areas that are keeping employers awake at night: firstly, the lack of information and how to start with this sensitive topic; and secondly, the notion that opening the dialogue somehow makes them more legally liable.
In reality, I would argue that managing the menopause in the workplace is simply one part of developing a genuine culture of diversity and inclusivity. If work is somewhere with a sense of trust, where challenging conversations of any kind can take place knowing that you will be listened to and supported, then a myriad of issues are included as part of a healthy, productive workplace.
Good news - employers do not have to be menopause experts. HR Consultant Jackie Monk of Harwood HR Solutions explains, “Managers are not expected to be medical experts. However, they do have a duty of care towards any employees experiencing menopausal symptoms. It’s about listening, avoiding assumptions and asking what women need to support them. Managers can signpost support and may need to make reasonable adjustments to help support them.” A menopause policy helps clarify the expectations on both parties, but it is also best viewed in a wider context of inclusivity. As Jackie says, “Having a policy isn’t a tick box exercise, it’s about saying ‘this is on our agenda and we are listening’.”
When it comes to providing practical support, it’s not necessarily complex or expensive. There are lots of small ‘reasonable adjustments’ that can all make a big difference to managing challenging symptoms. For example, support café’s (virtual or in person), offering extra desk fans, seating near lavatories or a window, cotton/extra uniforms, added comfort breaks and flagging up issues with deadlines or workloads. Information is essential for both employer and employee, and signposting to reliable resources can also help to open up those sensitive discussions.
Employers are also realising that the menopause discussion is much broader than perhaps initially thought, with wider health implications for internal as well as external relationships.
Tina Brown, MD at CCM Group explains, “The menopause should really be part of a greater discussion around female hormonal health and how to support individuals whatever their challenges. Pregnancy policies, for example, rarely cover sickness and fatigue or the mental health impact of miscarriage or postnatal depression.”
Whilst Paul Ince, MD at Like Mind Media sees the opportunities to take a supportive approach beyond internal staffing and out to external contacts, saying: “The average age of our clients is around mid 40’s, and I can now see that there have been occasions when a client was probably experiencing symptoms that I could have been more supportive of had I understood. We work hard to create a workplace where people want to be, but there is an opportunity to build these values into our relationships externally too.”
Instead of viewing manging the menopause in the workplace as just another headache, the nimble nature of SMEs provides the advantage of being able to get ahead of the competition by viewing this as an opportunity to strengthening internal and external relationships. With a focus on living company values, building a true culture of inclusivity and sharing relevant information, SMEs have the power to develop robust relationships that not only provide essential support but can have a positive impact on the bottom line too.