A 2019 survey by BUPA and the CIPD reported nearly a million UK female workers leaving their jobs due to menopausal symptoms. In that context it’s important for employers to arm themselves with an understanding of how best to support an employee who is experiencing performance issues due to the menopause, and retain valuable employees going through something difficult.
How can the menopause affect an employee’s performance?
If the employee is suffering from the most common symptoms of brain fog (reduced concentration levels), hot flushes, raised anxiety levels and reduced energy levels, this could affect their performance dramatically. An inability to concentrate adequately could lead to mistakes in their work, whilst raised anxiety could cause them to shy away from asking colleagues for help or participating in group discussions. If the employee has reduced energy levels they could feel unable to meet deadlines or complete a piece of work entirely.
Even in isolation, menopausal symptoms can be debilitating when at work, but many suffer from several symptoms at once, increasing the potential impact on performance even further.
Is it ok to discuss suspected menopausal symptoms with the employee?
If the employee has not declared any health issues, but you suspect they are suffering with symptoms it’s important to gain clarity from the employee. The menopause is a sensitive subject therefore any discussions should be handled appropriately and framed for the benefit of the employee.
For example, you could ask the employee if they are currently suffering from any health issues that could have caused their decline in performance. You could also discuss the symptoms that you have noticed and ask the employee if there is anything they would like to share which could have contributed to their poor performance. This way you are giving them the opportunity to raise health concerns themselves, rather than making assumptions.
Can we ask them for proof that menopausal symptoms are a cause of poor performance?
If you have started poor performance discussion with an employee and they declare that their decline in performance is due to menopausal symptoms, you can seek medical advice just as you might with any other health concern raised as part of a drop in performance.
Advice from an occupational health specialist or even from the employee’s own GP may help you pinpoint when the symptoms started and establish whether any adjustments can be made to their role to help their performance improve.
What type of role adjustments can be offered to support performance?
Where menopausal symptoms have contributed to a decline in performance, the goal should be to explore ways of reducing that impact, and possible adjustments to the role should therefore be explored. Examples of reasonable adjustments could include:
- Flexible hours – more flexibility in the employee’s hours could accommodate exhaustion, including possibly starting earlier and finishing earlier if they feel more tired at the end of the day.
- Accommodate uniform amendments – an employee suffering from hot flushes may benefit from not wearing parts of their uniform which increase their temperature. This of course should take into account any health and safety requirements.
- Temperature of workplace – a fan at the employee’s desk may help them feel more comfortable if they are feeling hot and the temperature cannot be controlled to accommodate them in their role.
- Reduction or redeployment of workload – if an employee is really struggling to complete their work due to symptoms they are experiencing, you could suggest that their workload is reduced or certain activities are given to other colleagues until their symptoms improve if this is feasible.
- Change of role – although this may not be possible in smaller businesses, the employee could be offered a temporary change in role if their current role is no longer possible.
Whether an adjustment is reasonable will depend on the type of request and the capacity of the employer to accommodate it. Some requests will be more possible for larger businesses with bigger budgets but it is in the best interest of any employer to accommodate adjustments where possible, with the goal of improving performance and retaining the employee.
Once actions have been established to improve performance and reasonable adjustments have been put in place (where necessary), it’s important to monitor performance and be flexible with possible changes to the original plan as menopausal symptoms can change regularly and increase/decrease in severity.
If you need any advice when dealing with workplace menopause, please do get in touch.