Menopause at work: tackling the taboo

by | Dec 21, 2020 | Blog

The menopause is experienced by half of the population at some point in their life; that’s a lot of people.

So, it’s surprising to us that it still remains a taboo in the workplace.

According to the CIPD, nearly a third of women who have experienced menopause symptoms have taken sick leave, however less than a quarter felt they could tell their line manager the real reason.

This begs the question if you have a menopausal woman in your team, would she feel comfortable talking to you about her symptoms?

If yes, great! If you’re not sure, read on for some top tips on making your employees comfortable talking about menopause at work.

Symptoms of the menopause are both physical and psychological

The menopause occurs as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline and generally lasts for several years between the age of 45 and 55.

Most women will experience both physical and psychological symptoms during the transition, ranging from minor discomforts to severe symptoms that can affect the individual’s day-to-day lives, including their work life.


Psychological Symptoms Physical Symptoms
  • Mood disturbances
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Night sweats/hot flushes
  • Memory loss
  • Aches/pains
  • Panic attacks
  • Irregular periods
  • Loss of confidence
  • Muscle/joint stiffness
  • Reduced concentration
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Palpitations
  • Skin changes


So, where do you come into this as a manager?

As a manager of people, you’re responsible for making sure menopause at work is treated in the same way as any other health issue.

This means creating a work environment where your team feel comfortable to talk openly about their health and implementing any policies and practices that can help employees who are experiencing menopausal symptoms.

An open workplace culture has been shown to improve team morale, retain talent and reduce absenteeism.


There are a few simple steps you can take to foster an open workplace culture:

  • Make one-to-ones a regular occurrence and keep them casual. This will help create the space for conversation regarding an employee’s health.
  • Make trust, empathy and respect central to your relationships with your team members so they feel more comfortable talking to you about sensitive issues.
  • Regularly ask people how they are and encourage them to raise concerns.
  • Avoid making assumptions about individuals in your team.


How to talk about the menopause at work

Above all else, be sensitive.

You should be aware that the employee will probably be feeling embarrassed or nervous about discussing their private health issues at work. For some women, this feeling might be accentuated by a loss of confidence – a relatively common symptom.

If line managers don’t have a good degree of knowledge and awareness of the health issues related to the menopause, the prospect of talking to them about it may be a daunting prospect.

If you aren’t already, you should think about getting clued up on the symptoms and how it can affect people at work. This will make yourself and any employees experiencing the transition more comfortable talking openly about it.


Take the following into account before sitting down for a conversation with the individual:


  • Avoid interruptions – phone off, laptop closed and ensure nobody will walk in unannounced
  • Ask simple, non-judgemental questions and give the employee space to answer
  • Make sure your responses are encouraging, not patronising
  • Speak calmly and maintain eye contact
  • Listen actively and encourage them to talk
  • Be empathetic and show understanding
  • Expect silences and be patient
  • Try not to be prescriptive and don’t make assumptions

Remember not to be too sensitive

It’s important to approach the issue with care but try not to be over-sensitive in these situations. If you seem embarrassed, chances are they will too.

Menopause symptoms are naturally a very personal issue; however, most would prefer to be asked about them in a genuine and empathetic way rather than suffer in silence.

Avoid asking anything about their symptoms directly. Instead, ask open-ended questions, for example, “I’ve noticed you’ve been arriving late recently, is everything alright?”.

It’s then up to them whether they choose to discuss their symptoms with you or not.

Make the menopause at work part of your risk assessment

As you have legal responsibility for health and safety at work, you’ll want to ensure that specific needs of menopausal women are considered in your risk assessments.

This will prevent your workplace from having any negative effect on your employee’s symptoms.

Next, make adjustments

Once you’ve sat down with your employee and had a confidential conversation about their specific issues, you can start making some simple changes to their working environment.

Here are a few examples to think about:

  • Providing private areas for women to rest and recover
  • Allowing flexible working arrangements to meet their needs (e.g. allowing them to work part-time, work remotely or have longer breaks when necessary)
  • Flexibility with work clothing.
  • Ensuring a comfortable working environment, including appropriate temperature control, good ventilation and access to toilets and showers

You may want to consult an occupational health practitioner for assistance with this.

What about when menopause affects performance?

Around three in five women say their menopause symptoms have a negative effect on their work performance. This is a difficult situation for both the employee and the employer, and one that must be handled with care.

Before any formal processes for underperformance, you need to consider the health issues that may be causing it.

Performance management
is an ongoing process which shows the best results when it’s proactive, informal and regular. You want to create a two-way conversation that addresses any health issues and how you can help them perform to their full potential.

If these issues remain unresolved, your employee may feel their only solution is to take sick leave, which of course is not ideal for either party.

Sickness absence and the menopause

Even when the utmost is done to ensure the employee is comfortable, some women with particularly severe symptoms may simply feel unable to come into work over certain periods.

You may find that despite your efforts to make work as comfortable as possible for your employee, their symptoms are so severe that they simply feel unable to come into work over certain periods of time.

You’re responsible for keeping in touch with them during these phases and putting together a return to work policy.

For more on this, take a look at our top tips for managing sickness absences.

If you’re looking for practical, actionable advice on menopause in the workplace, or would like to revise your policies and procedures, please do not hesitate to get in touch and speak with one of the team.