The number of women over the age of 45 who are in work is higher than ever before and, as such, it follows more women will be going through the menopause whilst they are working. Here we explore how to approach an employee who you think may be suffering from menopausal symptoms.
Proceed with caution
This is an extremely sensitive area and employers need to proceed with caution so as not to fall foul of any discrimination law and/or cause any unnecessary anxiety or offence. Plus, it is also worth bearing in mind that women can suffer from menopausal symptoms outside of the typical 45 – 54 age brackets so it is not wise to make assumptions about symptoms purely based on age! Many women feel embarrassed to talk about their symptoms and may take time off work without disclosing the reason to their employer.
Consider the environment you are creating
A useful starting point is to consider whether you are fostering an environment where employees know they should feel comfortable about raising any personal issues that are affecting them, that they will be listened to and they will be treated with respect, sensitivity and confidentiality. This presents a positive backdrop to encourage employees to come forward and discuss their symptoms whether menopause-related or not.
A wellbeing policy will help create such an environment and set out any support available for employees suffering symptoms, or you may even wish to consider a specific dedicated menopause policy.
When to approach
Whether there is a policy in place or not, many employees may still feel awkward in coming forward and in the event you believe an employee is displaying symptoms, it is better to tackle this sooner rather than later. Symptoms may manifest in many different ways and once you start to see a pattern emerging such as a reduction in performance levels, increased absence levels and/or a change in behaviour/attitude this is an appropriate time to start the conversation.
How you approach the employee is key, and usually the best way is to arrange an informal catch up in the first instance, even better if you have regular catch ups with all employees. Regardless of any suspicion around menopausal symptoms it is important to treat the employee in the same way you would any other team member displaying one or some of the patterns described above and not make any assumptions about the causes. Please see below some tips on how to handle the discussion:
- Ask the employee how they are, how they are finding things at work and whether they are facing any particular challenges at this time. If the employee has been off sick then ensure a return-to-work meeting is carried out raising the same questions as well as asking about their health and fitness to return. It is possible, by asking these questions the employee may then volunteer they have been suffering from menopause symptoms and this may open up for a more targeted discussion around how they are affecting the employee at work.
- If the employee is not very forthcoming when asked the questions in 1. above, then an approach could be to describe to the employee any observations you have. For example; ‘I have noticed your performance levels appear to have dropped somewhat recently and you have missed deadlines, there are errors in work (or any other observations) – is there any reason for this and how can I help?’. Or ‘I have noticed you appear to be quite anxious of late, is there any reason for this and can I support you in any way?’.
- The above approaches will hopefully pave the way for a more open and targeted discussion around the symptoms and issues the employee is experiencing. It will then be key for the employer and employee to agree a way forward in terms of the support required. Depending on the type and severity of symptoms this may range from minor adjustments to the workplace and/or role, signposting the employee to any support available (both external and internal) to encouraging the employee to seek professional medical advice and diagnosis. Of course, an occupational health referral will be helpful to identify the type of support and adjustments the employee may need to have in place.
It is also possible the symptoms the employee presents with may be indicative of a completely different underlying health issue so it is always best to initiate such discussions at the earliest opportunity so the employee can be supported in the best way possible.
If you’d like some advice and guidance on supporting an employee who is currently going through the menopause or you would like to make sure your business is ready to support your employees in this area, do get in touch.